#YoungAndPowerful: The Importance of Youth Taking the Lead

June 6, 2018

In my work with young people in Zimbabwe, India, and now the U.S., I have experienced and witnessed the importance and difference it makes to consider youth as participants rather than recipients. The world is moving at a breakneck pace and the gaps that exist between generations continue to grow. Millennials might be currently dominating the headlines in today’s world, but it is also critical to understand that Generation Z is already beginning to shape and write its own narrative.

Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, defines Generation Z as the generation born in the years between 1995 and 2012. Members of this generation are characterized by their heavy social media presence, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Youth Leadership Academy

This year Plan International USA is hosting its second Youth Leadership Academy (YLA), which will play host to Generation Z. The YLA is for rising high school freshman to high school seniors and will focus on personal leadership, community organizing, and youth participation with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This year the YLA will take place from July 23-27, in Washington, DC.

Plan strongly believes in providing youth with the platform and opportunity to make decisions about matters that concern them. Early last month, members of Plan’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) got together in Washington, DC for a two-day workshop to plan and design this year’s YLA, with support from the Youth and Economic Empowerment team. The YAB is a body of young people across the U.S. striving to vocalize the needs of youth by serving as ambassadors to Plan. Four of the five members that participated in the design workshop are alumni of the 2016 YLA, making them especially well-positioned to take the lead in planning and designing the 2018 Academy.


The planning workshop began with the YAB brainstorming and redefining the outcomes of the YLA. This exercise was beneficial to identify areas where the academy should focus, as well as the immediate, intermediate, and long-term results of the YLA. Through sharing their own experiences and what  they have learned on their leadership journeys, this session provided the perfect platform to focus on the types of workshops and activities that would be best for the YLA participants.

To identify the best workshops, the YAB was guided by the three main pillars of YLA:

  1. The SDGs
  2. The Leadership Development Project (learn more here)
  3. Professional and leadership development

In addition, three SDG themes were identified as priorities for this year:

  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Socioeconomic Equality
  • Peace and Justice

With these in mind, the YAB members decided to include workshops on Mobilizing Others for Change Communications for Professional Development, Advocacy 101, and Human Centered Design, amidst a jam-packed schedule of other activities, experiences, and youth-led learning. YLA participants will also have a chance to visit some of the international development organizations with offices in Washington, DC, as well as explore parts of the city’s history.

The passion that these young leaders have is overwhelming, humbling, and paints a very positive picture for the future. It is my personal goal in life to be able to help provide platforms and opportunities for every young person, no matter their background, to find their space and voice to lead.

As the start of the 2018 YLA draws closer, Plan does not only seek to advocate and support youth leadership, but involve young leaders in decision-making. It has been such an eye-opening experience for me to work with members of the YAB to make this year’s YLA a success.