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How can today’s youth make the Earth a better place?

It is an undisputed truth that the youth population in any region plays a vital role in dictating the direction their country takes and the priorities it promotes. According to UNFPA projections, India has (and will continue to have) the youngest population in the world until 2030. Not only does this imply that Indian youth can change our own country, but it also implies that our youth have the potential to change the entire world.

But what shapes the passions and interests of our young people? If you speak with a student today, you’ll likely find that they’re brimming with ideas and changes they’d like to make in our country: whether it’s to combat the specter of climate change or to raise awareness of human rights at the equality of chances. All they need is a framework and mentorship to turn their ideas into reality.

However, how well do the best Indian students know their country?

Is social change in our country a mere by-product of passion? Alas, the equation is never that easy or simple. As enthusiastic and brilliant as the students of India’s best schools are, they continue to live within arm’s length of 65% of their neighbors – the people of rural India, the entity better known as Bharat.

Lacking a much-needed base, young changemakers in India face the impending struggle of working with stereotypes that are too pervasive to understand India’s majority population and the issues they face. The important question then becomes: what can our education system do to fill this gap in understanding real-world challenges? How do we ensure that student changemakers are exposed to and aware of life and issues in our hinterlands?

Manav Subodh (bottom right) with Future Leaders of the 1 Million for 1 Billion Social Innovation and Future Skills Initiative.

Some key lessons from my own experience

This is a question I have tried to answer on a personal basis as well. Having spent over 8 years supporting change makers and young entrepreneurs and working to solve problems in Indian villages, I decided to use my understanding and create a framework of systemic issues and issues that needed be solved in the villages. After developing this framework, I decided to take advantage of the brightest students from the best schools in urban India and engage them to work on these key issues. Why not channel educated and privileged youth to work for the rest of India? Hence the name of my organization: 1 Million for 1 Billion (1M1B)

A Golden Bridge to fix everything?

The underlying idea is to build a bridge to connect the top and the bottom of the pyramid. Currently, the bottom of the pyramid lacks resources, business acumen and strategic models, while the top lacks understanding of village life and cultural sensitivity for the same. By creating pathways for students to immerse themselves in this context, we can ensure that Indian change-makers are able to use their problem-solving skills effectively and grounded.

This becomes particularly important in the context where undergraduate applications in Indian foreign universities have doubled in just one year. While it’s certainly important for students to embark on this global journey and learn from different cultures, it’s equally important for them to learn about their own country and get some grounding before they go.

This is the only way to ensure that our young people can solve real problems while learning essential skills for the future. It’s important to develop a pipeline of people-centered leaders who value people and planet more than business and profits.

The essential

If we are serious about empowering young Indians to be the agents of change we need to see, we need to ensure that they are not left out of the harsh and often bitter realities of the real India. Only by getting their hands dirty, talking to real people, can they solve India’s most pressing problems that need to be solved. To achieve this, we must ensure that:

  • Establish exposure to the real world in our education system: Indian schools need to start including modules or projects that allow students to visit nearby rural villages and work with local communities to solve their problems. Students should be assigned experienced mentors who can help them. This is the only way to ensure an exchange of ideas between two distant but interconnected worlds. We need initiatives that go beyond simple volunteering.
  • Mobilize resources: More businesses and universities need to start allocating funds (whether CSR or otherwise) to initiatives that connect urban youth (and future business leaders) to rural India to solve real problems . India can only become a superpower if we direct our intellectual and monetary resources towards closing our worrying wealth gap.

In our own way, my organization 1M 1B has tried to pilot and experiment with a model based on the philosophy described above. In collaboration with the University of California at Berkeley, the College of Engineering SCET and the Innovation Acceleration Group, “The Purpose Academy” aims to equip students with technology, ideas, creativity, resources and motivation to create disruptive solutions and create real impact.

Real problem solvers from urban schools are matched with real people from less privileged India in search of solutions. Developing AI solutions for farmers, activating people living near forests and buffer zones in the fight against climate action, providing clean water and health services to the marginalized, the third cohort from of this summer, June 2022, will work on these audacious subjects. The best solutions will have the opportunity to present at Silicon Valley and UC Berkeley in October 2022. I certainly look forward to seeing similar initiatives like this capable of empowering our young people.

Edited by Diya Koshy George