Why are Young People Choosing Social Change?

Posted on May 9, 2007. Filed under: Civil Society, Government, Social Change, Social Entrepreneurship |

I was reading an interesting blog on social edge today and it got me thinking about the gap between policy and social change today, and why young leaders today are focused so much on individual impact through social change or social entrepreneurship.

Seth Green, the blog writer states. “today’s young people are more focused on issues beyond the headlines, like climate change, poverty, and health. And we’re not just looking to the government for answers.”

He raises a good point, young people today are relying less and less on their government to fix the problem. The effect can be seen in voter turn out of individuals 18 to 24. The United States Election Project shows that all though voter turn out has been rising over the past 8 years, it is no where near where it was in the 50s and 60s.

Voter turnout is low, because many people believe that their voice doesn’t matter. I’m sure you’ve heard this before “My vote won’t matter, there are too many people voting” or “the Electoral College is going to choose anyways.”

There are many theories for why this is happening, why young people today are turning to their own means, whether than going through their government officials. Here are a few I’ve come up with:

  1. Understanding of government is low
  2. Young people today have many reasons to not trust their government
  3. Politics are becoming more about winning than about the voter
  4. The Media
  5. Policy change takes a long time and results aren’t always immediate – Social change seeing the results yourself, being the result maker
  6. Entrepreneurship has become an American culture

Understanding of government…In the 50s and 60s and before children learned more about government in school, even into the 80s. Children then sang the National Anthem everyday at school and had weekly civic lessons. Looking back I remember some of that stuff, but as my generation neared middle school and high school in the 90s and beyond, it began to decrease. Where did the sense of knowing your government go? I think a lot of young people really didn’t get the civic education many of their parents did and as a result they may not have a full understanding of how government works or how they could create a policy. This has only a small effect on why young people are choosing social change, but it is a part of it.

Unreliable government & increase in politics…Scandals have always been a part of government, I could list many for you right now, but lately it seems like politics and personal interest are taking over. From Gonzales & the firing of the US District Attorneys to Iraq & Guantanamo Bay, government scandals are on the news every day. Not to mention we have a President now in power with the lowest approval rating of all time. People across the United States are losing hope in the government. A good example is the war in Iraq. The Democrats in Congress created a new spending bill for the war and before it was even brought to the President he was already going to Veto it. I see this as not only a power struggle between parties, but as a power struggle to have the right answer. Other young people may be seeing the same thing. Why would they go into politics or down the route of policy change if it is only going to be about status? The only way to create change down this route today is create a large coalition and all though they are all around, they have to get noticed.

I blame a lot of the increase in politics and fame as a politician on the media. Media sources are talking already about the 2008 Presidential elections, forgetting about today’s government, except of course what is happening in Iraq. The only way someone can see what is really happening in the policy realm is to watch stuffy CSPAN or read it online. It takes initiative today to seek out the information any one would need to create a large policy change. Don’t get me wrong I am not calling young people lazy, and I am not discrediting the large organizations that are out their advocating, I am just saying it is not readily available or in the mainstream as much as it should/needs to be.

Lastly, Social Entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurship of all kinds is becoming part of American Culture. The American way of life is to go out and get what you want and do it quickly with the best results. Young people today are entrenched in this society. A society where they grew up believing they could do anything they set their mind to. This state of mind feeds right into individuals making social change on their own, whether it is starting their own recycling program or raising funds to save the whales.

Today’s society is a breading ground for social entrepreneurs that want to change the world or just get their way and this is hard to do through policy change. Policy change doesn’t always result in immediate results or in a wide span of results and for today’s young people that is not always enough.

As a social entrepreneur myself I see this method as a great one. American society has molded into a society where individuals can make a difference, by creating their own way. The only thing I can’t answer “Is this the best way?”

I am also very into public policy and the effect it has on our society and government structures, so why do I claim to be a social entrepreneur rather than a policy changer (that is a technical term!)?

For me its really about getting the best of both worlds. I want to be able to create change at the grassroots level, while at the same time create or change policies that will allow me to do that or to allow others to be successful.

We really need to find a strong balance between the two, but I’m not sure that is going to happen anytime soon, we need to push for it. A lot of things will have to change in government as well as in American culture. I have hope through collaboration we can create a better government, one that supports all forms of change. If we do this we will be on the right track and I believe that their are the right young leaders out their to do it.

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