As this decade draws to a close, a look at how social changemakers are shaping the future for young people.

Image courtesy of Anders Hellberg, used under CC.

Making Change

A Striking Message

This month, Time magazine announced 2019’s Person of the Year: climate change activist Greta Thunberg. Thunberg is certainly not the first to champion this issue on the world stage. And countless others, including some of our fellow B Corporations, are working to mitigate climate change. But as another well-known climate activist, Al Gore, readily admits, “this moment does feel different.” Just 16 years old, Thunberg has employed simple protest actions—school strikes—and her unique voice to stand out from the crowd. So what makes her message so powerful?

When Thunberg speaks, she uses clear, blunt language and carefully chosen scientific facts to make her points. This approach contrasts with the rhetoric employed by many other climate-focused activists and politicians. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara note that Thunberg makes heavy use of moral framing to not only point out “the harm and unfairness of the current climate crisis,” but also portray it as “a betrayal of political leaders and older generations against the world’s youth.”

“we will not stop organizing until our demands are met and until we see actual physical proof and action of our own city and around the world.”

Such moral clarity allows Thunberg to appeal to a wide range of audiences, and has helped inspire a global series of school strikes. Here in Portland, hundreds of student activists recently walked out and rallied to demand action from political leaders. In the words of one student, “we will not stop organizing until our demands are met and until we see actual physical proof and action of our own city and around the world.”

The Best Kept Secret in Public Health

While policymakers in the United States have failed to find consensus on how to tackle the climate crisis, they have found common ground on other issues that will affect the long-term well-being of children. One striking success has been the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, commonly known as WIC.

Research has shown that this program “helps moms have healthy pregnancies, helps kids and moms have healthier diets, improves birth outcomes, helps children do better in school, and increases access to regular health care.” In a given year, the program serves over 6 million families—approximately half of all infants born in the United States. And in a new report, research funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reveals that obesity rates have declined in young children who participate in the program, an outcome with positive long-term health implications.

WIC “should not be public health’s best-kept secret, and I think that right now it is. We absolutely have to do more to advocate for WIC and support it.”

Still, there is widespread unawareness of the impact of this crucial program. Lori Fresina, of the advocacy group Voices for Healthy Kids, points out that WIC “should not be public health’s best-kept secret, and I think that right now it is. We absolutely have to do more to advocate for WIC and support it.” Read the full report here.

A Safe State for Oregon Children by 2030

So many in the nonprofit sector are working to ensure a better future for young people—but it’s not an easy task. Just ask Becky Jones, executive director of the Oregon Network of Child Abuse Intervention Centers. On KGW’s Straight Talk, Jones discussed why preventing child abuse is difficult: “you feel like you’re alone. You feel like you have tried to alert people that this is a huge issue, but that no one will listen, because it’s so hard to talk about.”

Yet Jones is persevering. And together with a corporate partner, her organization is working to inform the public and build a broad coalition in the hope of making Oregon “the safest state for kids by 2030.” Over the next year, they will team up with a number of other child advocacy groups to decide what solutions to employ and how to best measure success. Their plan is to invite a host of partners to help fund this work and “make Oregon a role model for the rest of the country.” Watch the full Straight Talk segment here.

Collected Wisdom

Aspirational Communication

In 2000, 19 percent of teenagers in the United States smoked cigarettes. In 2019, only 5 percent of teens smoke. So what explains this decline? One major factor has been the long-running Truth anti-smoking campaign. In an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Doug Hattaway carefully analyzes this campaign, as well the triumphant campaign for marriage equality.

The Truth campaign’s willingness to authentically engage with and rely upon young people in its struggle was key to its success. The goal was to make not smoking aspirational—to turn the “notion of smoking as a symbol of youthful independence on its head.” As such, the campaign depended heavily on teenagers to drive its messaging—young people even came up with the campaign’s name—and ads in the campaign did not feature actors but rather young activists rebelling against the tobacco industry.

“the key to truly changing hearts and minds is to enable people to see your cause as an opportunity to live up to their aspirations for themselves.”

Just like those young anti-smoking activists, today’s adolescent climate activists feel empowered to put words into action. Hattaway makes the case that, for impactful social change, “the key to truly changing hearts and minds is to enable people to see your cause as an opportunity to live up to their aspirations for themselves.” He offers a six-step framework for an aspirational communication approach that seeks to achieve “durable attitude change” that is more likely to endure. Read the full article here.

Participate

Elevate Your Impact

How can business foster positive social, environmental and economic impacts? A host of entrepreneurial changemakers—both young and old—will convene at the Elevating Impact Summit on February 7th to answer this question. This year’s summit will focus on exploring the role of “innovation at the fringes of society.” Hosted by Portland State University’s School of Business, the summit will also offer socially-minded entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their ideas. Register for the event here.

Become a Young Leader

Our racial and cultural diversity is not reflected in the leadership of our business community, with profound negative consequences. But Emerging Leaders seeks to “create a new ‘normal’ for the Greater Portland area by challenging local business leaders to play an active role in fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion.” Its internship program has matched over 300 underrepresented students with companies throughout the Portland area.

Students of color—including DACA recipients—who have completed at least one year of community college or college coursework are encouraged to apply for the program, and applications are now open for the summer of 2020. Apply for the internship here.