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The Leaders of Today

Challenging the Stereotype of Young People

By Annie Douglas
Youth Participation Officer
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“Young people are lazy, unreliable and their eyes are so glued to their screens that they never look up to see what’s actually going on!”

 A classic example of negative stereotypes that don't accurately represent young people.

How many times have you heard complaints about the youth of today?

As if young people have no interest in the future of the world and the global issues they will one day inherit? Often politicians, community leaders and media personalities perpetuate the negative (and untrue) stereotype that young people are completely disinterested and disengaged.

Though young people are told time and time again that they are hopeless or insignificant, there are incredible young people who prove this stereotype wrong.

Malala Yousafzai, 19, bravely advocates for female education in Pakistan despite threats and assassination attempts from the Taliban.

Malala Yousafzai, 19, speaking at the United Nations.

Rene Silva was 11 when he first developed a community newspaper that countered negative perceptions in mainstream media about his favela, a shantytown neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro. He was 17 when he live-tweeted a police raid on his community. At 19, he has now published a book which continues to defy these stereotypes.

Young Australians of the year, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, established Orange Sky laundry, a mobile laundry service to support Australians with limited access to these services.

In fact, there are millions of young people involved in advocacy, activism and social change across the globe.

However, there are also many young people who tend to feel discouraged by the negative rhetoric and the lack of opportunities that young people receive. While Australia is experiencing an aging population, the opposite is true of many nations across the globe.

Of the 1.5 billion people aged 12–24 worldwide, 1.3 billion of them live in the Global South, the largest number in history. This phenomenon is known as the youth bulge. It means that young people in the Global South not only struggle with negative youth stereotypes that we see in Australia, but also struggle with a lack of opportunities to learn and contribute to society, as employers and education providers are increasingly unable to keep up with this youth bulge.

If young people like Malala, Rene, Nic and Lucas are capable of making a difference in a world where they receive little support or encouragement, imagine what the world would look like if young people were provided with opportunities and enabling environments to reach their full potential as leaders and social change makers.

A youth strategy in Australia’s aid program is essential to strong, successful Australian foreign policy.

It’s about giving young people the chance to participate in decision-making for policies and programs that have an impact on their lives, on anything from a local to national scale. It’s about equipping young people with valuable skills and experiences that they can draw on for the rest of their lives. It would mean young people who once felt marginalised become empowered and feel as if their voices are heard.

We must have a foreign policy that reflects the significant role that young people can play, not just in the future, but right now. Young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but can be the leaders of today.

Want to keep reading? Check out Coffee or Change: Challenging the Future of Poverty