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Youth Leadership and Digital Technology: About the discussion

Published Date: 7 June 2010

The Current Climate
A deepening recession is not a great time for young people. There are fewer and fewer job opportunities and even graduates with good degrees are struggling. Youth unemployment is rising more quickly than unemployment for any other group and is forecast to exceed 1 million in the UK during 2010. Additionally, young people are growing into adulthood within societies with a number of seemingly intractable problems looming, including an ageing society, climate change and increasing inequality.

These pressures come on top of other big trends that have weakened young people’s position. Much longer transitions to adulthood mean fewer people getting quickly to the top, unlike William Pitt who became the youngest Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of 24, this is unimaginable for young people across the globe today. And our media increasingly present young people much more often as problems than as problem solvers.

Youth Leadership and Digital Technologies
No matter which way you look at it, society has changed dramatically in the past several decades. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs), from mobile phones to the new iPad, are now an integral part of society, shaping the experiences of young people and changing the way they take part in social and political life. Today’s young people are more likely to get involved in championing a social issue by joining an online campaign than pledging allegiance to a formal political party.

Digital technologies can be powerful tools for change making, offering young people new ways to ‘get things done’. For example, newer applications such as social networking sites are places of interactivity and participation, where young people can find information as well as create, publish, share ideas and get feedback on their views through blogs, videos and chat rooms. Online communities can be important places of civic engagement, where young people can gain knowledge that will enable them to be more active, creative and influential.

However, digital technologies are not the panacea for inequality many have hoped. The ability of young people to use digital technologies to lead positive social change depends upon a range of socio-economic factors, including education. In this TelePresence discussion, we will explore how digital technologies can be used as tools for youth leadership and social innovation among young people as well as discussing how adults and institutions working with young people can better tap into such resources to help young people reach their potential.

What is Youth Leadership?
The concept of ‘youth leadership’ is difficult to pin down. Leadership literature includes a host of theories investigating leaders, their roles and essential qualities, and whether they are ‘made’ or ‘born’ – and if they are ‘made’, then how to ‘make’ them. While challenging to define, our research with practitioners, experts and young people has yielded the following definition of youth leadership:

Young people empowered to inspire and mobilise themselves and others towards a common purpose, in response to personal and/or social issues and challenges, to effect positive change.”