As teens, Millennials were very cause-minded, bringing issues such as recycling, gay rights, and animal welfare to the forefront. Today, teens around the globe are carrying on the tradition of youth inciting social action by calling attention to a fresh set of issues including climate change, the unequal distribution of wealth, and gender equality. But they’re approaching these problems with unique perspectives as truly global citizens who are also highly confident about their ability to effect change worldwide.
Several teens have been making headlines as leaders of social movements. Just this past week, Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, at age 17. She was shot by the Taliban for speaking out for girls’ right to an education and has since become a leading spokesperson for the cause.
In China, 17-year-old Joshua Wong inadvertently became one of the main faces of the protests in Hong Kong for democratic elections though he isn’t even old enough to vote. Not wanting to be a “silent victim,” Wong has never been shy about standing up for what he believes in. At age 15, he founded Scholarism, a group that quickly grew to more than 100,000 followers protesting Chinese nationalist propaganda in the education system. Now, he’s giving speeches and leading protests of a similar magnitude for a cause with international implications.
Three 16-year-old teen girls in Ireland were inspired to tackle the impending world food crisis with a project that ultimately won them the Google Science Fair competition this year. After learning about how the planet’s population will soon outgrow its food supply, they were inspired to blend their interests in gardening and microbiology to develop a method for significantly improving grain crop yields. While adults doubted their vision, the girls believed their experiments would have an international significance.
While in the past teens focused their efforts on local issues, their interests in causes has evolved; they are now thinking globally and systematically about making a difference in the world. The latest issue of The Cassandra Reportidentifies a new trend among young people—that they have become the new Cultural Diplomats, taking it upon themselves to represent their countries, to think about international affairs, and to find ways to make a difference on a grand scale. Never before has a generation of young people had the tools to do this. Social media not only gives teens a platform on which to share the causes they’re interested in—we’ve seen the power it can have with the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge—but also gives them an unfiltered view of what’s going on around the world from their peers. This helps teens learn about global concerns and also personalizes the problems they hear about. In fact, 65% of young people around the world say that causes connect them to peers in other cultures, per the report.
Brands should follow teens’ lead and act globally in their social responsibility efforts. Companies generally present their initiatives through a local lens—for example, helping a community in rural Peru by bringing them clean drinking water. But teens expect brands to make a global impact, just as they are themselves. The same drinking water program could be couched in the context of a looming worldwide water shortage, not only bringing local issues to the fore, but also highlighting the larger international impact. This would help connect teens to the cause and encourage them to see the brand (and themselves for supporting the brand) as part of the global community.