When I was 16, I had a dream. I wanted to create a project that would empower children from low income families through mentorship and support provided by youth who serve as their big brothers and sisters. At first, when I asked the local municipality to help, they told me that I would be wasting my time and should instead go volunteer in existing frameworks, and added “But you’re very sweet!”
Despite the less-than-supportive response, I was certain we could create a setting that was far more inviting than the existing frameworks. After a few months, in cooperation with wonderful youth who joined, as well as the support of organizations such as LEAD, an Israeli youth leadership program, I established the project. In the wake of the project’s success, the municipality joined us after a few months and became a supporter of the project. The project, which is run by youth volunteers, has been running for the past seven years and has helped hundreds of children across Israel!
I am very lucky to have had the opportunity to establish my own project at such a young age. It taught me, above all else, that youth can make a real change and that sometimes adults and people in positions of authority don’t have all the answers. This is the advantage of youth. We aren’t afraid to challenge the existing reality and we often don’t take no for an answer. Through our unique perspective and energy, we can have a real impact on the society around us, all we need is the right guidance and opportunities to do so.
This is not just my story. There are hundreds of young people in Israel creating innovative social projects. They are changing the face of Israeli society from the time they are in high school and early 20s. They’re not doing it all on their own. LEAD the Israeli leadership development program guides hundreds of Israeli youth every year through a unique training process. The LEAD process taught me more than any classroom lecture about what leadership is. If we train youth from various backgrounds about ethical, active leadership and enable them to practice it in creative, different ways, they will be able to fulfil their leadership potential and drive change. Society will benefit from their involvement and they can point out some fascinating insights adults can’t see.
Today’s youth perceive leadership and social change in a way that differs from their parents. We challenge the premise that changes can only be made through politicians and the government. Changes can come from a community you’ve created with your friends from your neighborhood, your university and even from the army. The world today is more networked than ever before, we can communicate with people from all over the world easily and have access to information. Therefore social change that comes from the people, from the grassroots, is easier than ever.
The combination of youth leadership training programs that provide young people with leadership tools and a moral core, along with the creation of communities of action for those between the ages of 20-30 can help us create a much more ethical and professional leadership layer and thus, a better future in the State of Israel. As a young person in Israel, despite the current corruption scandals, I’m still optimistic. Young people in Israel are more involved and creative then they have ever been.
Every now and then, we hear that familiar complaint from the the older generation: “When I was young, youth had values. Today’s youth? They only care about Facebook.” It’s just not true. Today’s youth are engaged, caring and more vibrant than ever. Israeli society will benefit from bringing young people’s unique, fresh ideas and perspective into the decision-making processes. Israel’s youth want to make the country better, all they need is the right guidance and opportunities.
Keren Sudri is a graduate of LEAD, a leadership development program established to develop Israel’s next generation of leaders.