Co-creating student-led changemaker spaces at universities

Submitted on Mon, April 25, 2016

The university space is one that carries incredible promise for collaborative experiences where faculty, students and the surrounding community can together expand opportunities for social good, empathy and people-centered solutions. But what environment should universities co-create with students for youth-changemaking to flourish; and what best practices are already out there that can support students to be powerful changemakers? 

Youth Venture explored such critical questions in two interactive sessions at this year’s Ashoka U Exchange. In this article, we share some insights and discoveries from our work with young changemakers and innovative professors at the Exchange...  

Youth Venture session: ‘Changemaker Society’ within a university

A core belief at Youth Venture is centered on the idea of putting young people in charge by cultivating changemaker experiences for student-driven social change within schools, universities, and communities. 'Changemaker Society' is an evovling program where Youth Venture is exploring how to activate changemaker environments inside universities and schools with a focus on the following goals:

1. Introduce peers to changemaking 

2. Make changemaking aspirational 

3. Create a sense of community for students in the Changemaking journey

4. Become part of a global movement of Changemaker Society

To further build out the idea, Youth Venture led a sesssion where student teams presented their innovations for self-organizing changemaker spaces within universities. Teams then searched for common trends across each presentation. The primary convergence centered on the belief that changemaking starts at a deeply personal level which requires trigger-experiences to support the gradual development of the changemaker mind-set. Students identified the need for consistent trigger-experiences for team building, mentorship, incubation spaces and more.  

Another trend discovered was that students are eager to engage with a global group of peers who are actively contributing towards advancing an 'Everyone a Changemaker' world. 

Ashoka U_YV


Youth Venture session: University ‘Social Incubators’

Empowering young people by triggering specific experiences is the most effective way to shift mind-sets. Operating under this belief, top university programs, social incubators and Youth Venture equipped students with tactics to experience out-of-the-box thinking and better ways to measure impact. 

Fiona Wilson, University of New Hampshire, started the session by asking all the participants to be vulnerable by sharing their passions with strangers. From there, Eric Glustrom of Watson University facilitated “playing out of the box” as a means of better working together towards unlocking the creative potential of each team member. Tania Del Matto and Paul Heidbrecht from University of Waterloo brought some students to the session to help the groups empathize with the struggles students face. Lastly, Alex Gill and Kelly McShane-- from Ryerson University--demonstrated new ways for measuring the impact of social incubators and stressed the process, not just output. Alex and Kelly creatively demonstrated this point by actually showing the process of baking cookies!

The main principle for thriving in this fast changing environment is getting young people to not only be recievers of education, but also active producers and influencers in their journey for changemaking. For Ashoka’s Youth Venture, this is core to impactful social innovation. 

Ashoka U_YV_panel


Tania Del Matt (@UWGreenHouse) and Paul Heidebrecht - Director, MSCU Centre for Peace Advancement, University of Waterloo | @MSCU_CPA

Alex Gill - Social Innovator in Residence (Coach), Ryerson University; | @alexgill &

Kelly McShane -Associate Professor, Psychology, Ryerson University | @AcademicRealist

Eric Glustrom - President, Watson University; Ashoka Fellow | @WatsonUniv

Fiona Wilson - Co-Director, Center for Social Innovation & Enterprise; Associate Professor (Clinical), University of New Hampshire | @CarseySchool

Lead facilitator: Mentor Dida, Ashoka’s Youth Venture | @youth_venture


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