Ashoka Young Changemakers in Washington D.C. with organizers and Bill Drayton, second from right. (Photo courtesy of Ashoka Young Changemakers)
Menlo School

Ashoka Young Changemakers: Youth working to change the world

In the 1960s, Bill Drayton, then 18, drove with three friends for weeks from Munich to South India, traveling through political coups and unrest. He was interested in exploring the different inequalities that plague people. 

Not only did he see first-hand the different problems communities face, but he also witnessed that these problems were being solved by people within the community coming together to make a change. He called these people change-makers.

Struck by the power of agency and people to address problems big and small within their local communities, he started Ashoka, an NGO working to promote the “Everyone a Changemaker” (EACH) movement.

“A ‘changemaker’ is helping everyone through example. When you change your world, you are a ‘changemaker,’” Drayton, Founder and CEO of Ashoka said. “It is about creating a culture of confidence, mutual help and respect.”

Ashoka aims to promote the EACH movement by supporting change-makers, who combine empathy, teamwork, leadership, and service to affect positive change in their world. It has over 4,000 Changemaker fellows in 92 different countries.

“Our mission is a world where we all realize our power to make change in the world,” Executive Director of Ashoka’s youth programs Tia Brown said. “To get to that point, a lot of the work we do is focused on young people and the ecosystem that surrounds them.”

The Power of Youth

Recently, Ashoka launched its new cohort of Ashoka Young Changemakers. The cohorts from this year and last year convened in Washington DC this past summer to share their stories, learn from each other, and brainstorm ideas to inspire their peers to become change-makers. 

“Although all the fellows come from different backgrounds, what we share in common is that we are solving problems and thinking globally to use our techniques to promote positive change,” said AYCer Victor Ye, Founder of InnovaYouth, an organization teaching teenagers leadership, research, and communication skills.

This year’s AYCers are taking action against gun violence, a lack of confidence in young girls, and bullying.

“Young people have flexibility and openness,” Drayton said. “Youth are helping improve our vision for the world. Their nature of leadership is a lot more palatable.” 

Not only is youth change-making important for our society, but it also greatly improves youth’s leadership skills and helps them grow.  An internal Ashoka study on LinkedIn reveals that teenagers who founded a venture are four times as like to be C-level executives and five times as likely to be founders or co-founders. 

Change-making is a learned skill.

“Starting young allows change-making to be practiced over a period of time,” Brown said. “Practice being powerful.”