Do Young People Need To Be Saved?

Submitted on Thu, November 1, 2012

Bookmark and ShareI have been thinking lately (read: becoming aggravated again) about the way that many in the nonprofit and education fields talk about young people. Many individuals, organizations, CSR initiatives and what have you demonstrate a need for their presence, their approach, or their money by focusing on and relaying information about young peoples’ deficits. There are a couple points I would like to make on this framework of understanding:

1. The way that people talk about their concerns and intentions informs the way that people act on those concerns and intentions.

2. Because this talking and acting involves another party (in this case a young person or a group of young people), that framework of understanding affects the relationship with that other party, how they see themselves, and how they see that person.

Coming from that perspective, if people talk about youth in terms of their deficits (i.e. dropout rates, underachievement, crime, etc.) than those deficits begin to 1. Turn youth into a category of people to be saved and 2. Define those youth.  Objectives become to lower teen pregnancy and convey takeaways in the negative like “Don’t skip class.” I am not in any way saying that we should ignore or gloss over issues, what I am saying is that we should consider how we are communicating about those issues. What happens if instead we think of youth through a framework that emphasizes assets? What if we recognize the power that young people have and encourage them to spend their time on working towards something great instead of away from something negative? What happens then to how they understand their goals, their relationships, and their place in the world?

This is what social entrepreneurship education is based on: youth have and should exercise their power to create positive change. Youth start off with assets and ideas that they can build upon through their own ingenuity, through encouragement, and through the introduction of tools and resources that they can use. They do not need to be saved, they need space to be great. With the second iteration of the course ‘Venture Planning for Social Entrepreneurs ,’ a distance course created through a partnership between University of Florida and Ashoka’s Youth Venture, coming up in January, I am hopeful that this recognition of the unbelievable talent of young people will translate into more and more interest around asset-based approaches like social entrepreneurship education.

Anyone interested in taking ‘Venture Planning for Social Entrepreneurs’ to launch or improve upon a venture can find more information and register at