Inspire Kids To Act

"We are the change that we seek" was Barack Obama's challenge in 2008, and today's children are arguably the generation that will deliver this change. Mention kids and digital, though, and we may be reminded of The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes our Future, wherein Prof. Mark Bauerlein argues that the Internet is making young people increasingly ignorant about almost everything except "online video games and the narcissism of self-authored internet content." So, can digital media really be used to inspire future generations to deliver positive change?

Not-for-profit organizations are arguably one of the biggest champions of "change that we seek," so we asked a selection of them how they were using digital to inspire teens. We found that there is a considerably more positive image emerging than that of Bauerlein, and that digital media is being used in a variety of very effective ways to reach and inspire kids to make a difference, whilst giving them the tools to spread the word.

Comic Relief faced such a challenge earlier this year when it was looking to generate awareness for Red Nose Day 2009, one of the United Kingdom's biggest charity events, in a difficult economic climate and crowded media space. Reaching out to kids online played a major role, collaborating with the likes of b-box, Bebo's flagship weekly magazine show aimed at a teen audience. Chris Ward, creative communications cirector, said, "For the first time in '09, we ran a six-week 'digital' campaign leading up to Red Nose Day. This helped us enormously in engaging fully with the younger market."

In our review, we also saw a consistent pattern of increased focus on digital media to genuinely engage this audience, contradicting the fashionable view of stereotypical kids with short attention spans. The British Heart Foundation, which has kids as a major target given that heart-related health problems often start in the early years, has tackled this by turning kids' passion to have fun online to its advantage through the likes of its award-winning Yoobot game. David Barker, head of communications, said, "We want to talk in a style that our audience will understand -- entertainment first, education second."

An opportunity recognized by all organizations we reviewed was to turn their followers into advocates, and to use digital to share enthusiasm for a cause or message. We Are What We Do, author of Teach your Granny to Text, a book written by kids with 30 simple actions to change the world, created an environment on its site for people to inspire each other by sharing their positive actions. Eugenie Harvey, co-founder of We Are What We Do, "The primary application of digital in our work with kids is through our on-line action tracking facility which enables them to share their experiences with their friends and tell us their stories."

Far from creating a "dumb generation," it is therefore clear that, used in the right way, digital media can be immensely powerful ways of reaching, engaging and inspiring kids to act in a positive way. Moreover, it appears that not-for-profit organizations, despite tight budgets and challenges posed by delivering sometimes educational "boring" messages, are achieving a level of innovation and effectiveness many commercial brand owners can learn from.

It has been fashionable in recent years for charities to draw ideas and inspiration from the commercial world. Maybe now the boot should be on the other foot, with the commercial world learning from the not-for-profit sector.

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3 comments about "Inspire Kids To Act ".
  1. Ewen Syme from Fuse , December 10, 2009 at 3:52 p.m.

    It's an interesting point that's raised about charity work possibly becoming more of a catalyst for inspiring actionable efforts with digital strategies. Recently FirstBorn did a wonderful job (when do they not) with the Lands End Warm Up homeless coat drive project. I think charitable work IS so well suited to digital campaigns because it can so readily harness people's passions for truly important causes on a mass scale and easily amplify and channel that energy towards success.

  2. Kevin Gaydosh from O'Brien et al , December 10, 2009 at 4:06 p.m.

    I'm happy to hear of at least one instance (Land's End coats) where such a campaign manifested in something "tangible." As I read, my fear was: yes, the Internet may be a wonderful means of reaching these digital children, and a channel for them to become "activated." But at the end of the day something "real" rather than "virtual" has to happen: a coat must be given to a cold person without one. Making real change in someone's life still requires F2F human contact. All the friends made on Myspace and all the Facebook friends who adobpt the "cause" won't mean a thing unless somewhere somehow people move away from the computer screens, unplug their I-Pods and put down the I-Phones and lend a helping hand to a real live human.

  3. Byron Wolt from Speak to Students , February 11, 2010 at 4:23 p.m.

    Youth are amazing and with provided with the right information and motivation they can do amazing things. Target, Best Buy, Culver's and Pizza Hut get kids to go to their businesses knowing that the companies will donate back to the school when they spend money there. Those companies then benefit from the positive PR, tax deductions and the potential development of life-long customers.

    If you can reach youth and empower them to action, good things will happen - today and as they grow into the adults of the future. However, they are not like their parents in many ways. They still want to consume and have their toys, but they want more. Companies who can give them more will flourish with this up and coming generation.