Updated: Jul 21, 2019
When we think of changemakers some of us may immediately think of politicians and activists. But there are many different ways to make a difference in today's world. Some may be very obvious but others may make big changes more subtly. Often we may never realize that actions we took my have significantly changed the trajectory of someone else's life. (Check out this 6min TED talk about how a one-minute interaction changed a College student's journey. And the "changemaker" - didn't even remember it)
"There are many different ways to make a difference"
In honor of both small and big changes I have collected a list of different roles leaders can take on.
I hope that these descriptions inspire you. Or at least they can give you a better vision of what your role in the world could be. Or for those of you who recognize yourselves in one of these descriptions you may gather more ideas about how you can expand your impact.
Education is the foundation of peace, a sustainable future and the development of our world.
I could write you a book about how education is the key to everything: if people get educated, they get better jobs, have fewer children, improve their societies and can provide for their families.
But teaching a child how to read and write is just the first step. The 6-year olds that are right now learning how to read will be entering the workforce in about 12-16 years. What kind of leaders would you like them to be?
I can tell you about the leaders they are most likely to be: the people who educate them.
Children learn through observing others. Therefore, the role models that our children interact with are directly influencing the future! Teaching the next generation to communicate respectfully, be kind to the environment and give back to the people around changes the world - one smile at the time.
"Children learn through observing others."
Unfortunately, many teachers don't get paid enough compared to the value that they are bringing to the world. (But trust me, as a psychologist, that a pre-school teacher's behavior towards a child has significant impacts on their development). So here's something you can do right now: shoot one of your old teachers a thank-you message and show them that you appreciate their dedication. Tell them, if they impacted your life. Sometimes that is really important to hear!
"You don't have to be a teacher to be an educator"
More importantly: even if you are not a classical teacher who teaches maths and science in schools - you can still be an educator by spreading awareness about issues with your friends, on social media or volunteering your time teaching the skills that you have! Just a few hours a day (and online-volunteering) can change someone's life forever. If you are at university you can set up a club or event that educates people about something in a funny way. If you are an artist you can raise awareness using your creativity. And most of all: never stop to educate yourself.
"Never stop to educate yourself"
There are those days where just everything goes wrong. Of course, we know that the world is not falling apart and that we will probably be fine but sometimes it just doesn't feel like it. In those moments, the best thing is a friend who can just listen: they don't give their opinion, they don't tell you what to do - they are just there for you and ask questions, demonstrating their concern and love.
"People who listen and actually try to understand,
instead of planning what they could reply"
In an age in which everyone is always ready to have an opinion about everything - we need to remind ourselves of the importance of listening. Not only in support for a friend in distress but also in the face of opinions that may seem vastly different than ours.
People who listen and actually try to understand, instead of planning what they could reply, are the wise leaders who can guide us into tomorrow.
Here's an amazing TED talk about how listening can change the world.
The hero of kindness
A genuine "how are you?", a friend who helps you move, the anonymous person who leaves you a motivational note and some chocolate on your desk to make you smile...
Sometimes it feels like there are not enough people like that, right?
Let's be those people!
The biggest change can happen when you are a pro-active and caring member of your community.
It seems like such an un-heroic thing. I mean, no one has gotten the Nobel Peace Prize by being nice to their siblings, coworkers and classmates, right?
"It seems like such an un-heroic thing"
Perhaps not, but you may see that being kind builds your reputation in your community and it almost always comes back to you in some form - in the best case scenario: in the form of a community that you have shaped and that you love to be part of.
How can be create world peace if we cannot form peace in our own bedrooms and living spaces?
This is perhaps not a very obvious role but facilitators work in so many spaces and regions and their contribution to society is indispensable! Facilitators help people communicate. They can be mediators helping a to-be divorced couple settle their situation without a lawsuit and without tear, hate and anger (didn't work in the situation of my parents, but does work frequently). Mediators in global situations can help countries and communities settle their conflicts and come together in peace to discuss a better future.
I was trained as a mediator when I was 12 years old. From all the things that I learned at that age, the extra-curricular mediators training probably impacted my life most. I was taught how to make people see the perspective of the other person, empathize and thus come to an agreement - and rebuild a friendship. What used to be fights over pencil cases soon became facilitating peace conferences among between refugees and other youth in Thailand and Myanmar. I went to Cambodia twice to discuss the idea of personal peace and conflict in divided communities with inspiring Cambodian youth. Almost ten years after my mediator training I am now researching empathy, perspective-taking and polarization as a research assistant the University of Pennsylvania and look at the academics behind the techniques I was taught as a 12-year old.
"Communicate that you are not a judge. You will never be the person best equipped to find solutions to someone else's conflict"
The most important part about facilitating is not your wisdom, your experience - not even your skills. The most important thing in facilitating is to communicate that you are not a judge: you do not have the answer to people's problems. Unless you can read people's minds - you will never be the person best equipped to find solutions to someone else's conflict.
Facilitators are there as a guide to empower people to find their own solutions.
The idea behind activism is that if voices are loud enough people will listen. You can increase your impact by raising your voice or gathering a large enough group of people to be heard. The spirit of activism has shown to sway many companies, governments and societies. Generally activists can:
Protest and demonstrate
Create and sign petitions
Raise Awareness by
being active on social media
starting clubs and events in college/schools/community
Take on public challenges to attract publicity for causes
Depending on which country you live in engaging in different kind of activism may be dangerous. You may, therefore, want to look into other ways to make change.
If you want to check out a list of websites every activist should know and read about more specific things you can do to scale up your activism, read my detailed post about being an activist.
Political engagement may also be a more obvious way to get involved in the decisions of the world. The biggest power of political engagement is that you can make changes from the top-down. If a policy gets implemented on a national (or perhaps even international scale) your impact can be huge. Especially if you enjoy student government, debate, public speaking or law - you may find that you already are a semi-politician.
More ways to become politically active
Help register voters
Volunteer for a party
Join a youth club of a party
Participate in student government
Join Model United Nations
Websites every politically interested young person should know:
Africa Liberal Youth (Africa)
The Social Entrepreneur
Social entrepreneurs are innovators, creators and leaders in businesses for a social cause. They are often not-for-profit (also called nongovernmental organizations or NGOS) but can also be for-profit. Simply put, they provide products and services that make the world a better place.
"Provide products and services that make the world a better place"
If you are full of ideas and interested in working in (or founding!) a company, you may want to look into social entrepreneurship and nonprofit management!
You could start off by checking out some amazing social businesses for inspiration.
Okay, I am going to be real here: I am absolutely terrified of climate change and even more shocked about how humanity is (not) reacting to it. The only hope that I still have is engineers: we need passionate, intelligent, dedicated young people to invent the solutions of the problems of tomorrow.
"We need passionate, intelligent, dedicated young people to invent the solutions of the problems of tomorrow"
Unlike other roles on this list this is also a role that can be a career that can help you make a lot of money! Check out this amazing directory of tech companies that change the world.