Contributing to and leading change

This sections examines young people’s social action: Traditional forms including volunteering Participation in political groups New ways of creating change using technology New ways of creating change with the disciplines of business  

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The Overview

Young people are finding new ways to contribute and lead change

Young people are using technology and the disciplines of business to create change

While young people are disillusioned with institutionalised forms of politics, such as political parties and trade unions, they are not inactive.  They are finding new ways to shape society using technology and the disciplines of business to create change.  These new methods are important, not only because they are creating new forms of political action, but because they are lowering the threshold for individuals to become engaged.  Both technology and political consumerism provide new forms of activities that can be seen as the modern day precursors to more complex civic involvements – preparing young people to be citizens and leaders.

Technology provides new ways to express ideas and take action

The Internet, and in particular social networking and youth-oriented discussion sites, are providing alternative forums for young people to discuss ideas (Harris et al 2008; Collin 2008).  The online environment reduces barriers young people feel about engaging in more formal ways: speaking up in a group; concern about being judged on the basis of ethnicity/disability/sexuality/age; travel and mobility barriers (Bell et al 2008; Harris 2008; Harris & Wyn 2009; Dalton & Kittilson 2012; Hanckel & Morris 2014).  Engagement on the Internet involves the networks young people are good at constructing (Loader et al 2014).  By sharing through these networks young people find out about issues, hear the news, examine different representations of issues (such as gender), and access support by finding “their tribe” (particularly important for same-sex attracted young people, for example) (Loader et al 2014).  Young people from diverse backgrounds are networked online, which means more young people can access information on issues than occurred in the past (Loader et al 2014).  As well as information gathering and discussion, young people use social media to hold representatives to account and to critically monitor policies and actions (Keane 2011; Martin 2012; Loader et al 2014).


Further reading including detailed graphs and analysis

Australian young people are users of, but not workers in, technology

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Social media has lowered the threshold for everyday forms of individual engagement (Vromen 2008).  The Internet provides more opportunities for individualised participation including signing petitions, blogging, using chat rooms and donating money (Vromen 2008).   These activities help young people create a public self, which is the first step to seeing themselves as citizens (Harris 2008).   Online and offline methods of engagement are not mutually exclusive and are, in many instances, used together (Ohlin et al 2010).  Young people regularly find out about issues or opportunities to participate in civic and political activities in the offline spheres and then go online to take the next step (Ohlin et al 2010).  They also regularly use online and mobile technologies to organise civic and political activities in the offline world (Ohlin et al 2010).

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Technology provides new ways to build coalitions for action

Technology not only creates opportunities for individual self-expression and participation but is being used to build new coalitions and find ways of doing things in communities, government and business, although these activities are not measured in surveys and cannot be quantified.  Global networks are being created online to run campaigns to fight corruption, end slavery, stop war and protect the environment., for example, is an online petition platform that allows anyone to create a campaign for a change they want to see.  It now has 70 million users in 196 countries.  Local networks are also being created to address local issues (for example, Get Up with over 600 000 people campaigning on issues for Australia).  Social purpose hack-a-thons and competitions are bringing young people together to create everything from social purpose apps to improvements in government in areas as diverse as disaster management, sanitation, education, the provision of health services and transport.  Technology is also being used to give people ways to provide feedback on services such as their education, etc.

Technology has been shown to be powerful in developing young people’s capacity to engage in the world positively in schools.  When utilised, Web 2.0 and social media approaches – for teaching, student work and to connect the school and community – have been shown to give students a positive view of the world and their capacity to engage with it and increase their community participation and sense of belonging (Mellor & Seddon 2013).  Students also developed knowledge of how a democracy could work, complained less about school governance processes, and had a greater understanding of their capacity to ‘make a difference’ on their own terms (Mellor & Seddon 2013).

Watch FYA’s young people use technology to build communities and create change

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The disciplines of business are being used to create social purpose ventures

One of the biggest changes in the way young people are trying to create change in the world is their adoption of the practices of business to create social purpose ventures (Section 2).  It is not known exactly how many social ventures there are in Australia, as no data yet exists that clarifies whether an organisation has a social purpose.  In the mid-2000s, however, it was estimated there were 59 000 economically significant not-for-profit organisations and 20 000 small, medium and large social enterprises, working across every industry of the Australian economy, and some overseas (ABS 2009; Barraket et al 2010).  A British survey conducted around the same time, found young people were the most likely age group to be social entrepreneurs establishing ventures (Harding & Cowling 2006).

There are a range of types of social ventures now being created from not-for-profit to for-profit with purpose.

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While there is a dearth of information about the size and value of these activities, there is a large body of evidence now detailing what is needed to support this market and ensure it grows (Addis et al 2013; EY 2013).

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The disciplines of business are being challenged by consumerism and collective consumption

The growth of social purpose ventures has allowed people to use consumerism as a form of civic and political action that again has lowered the threshold for political action for individuals.  In Australia, the practice has grown considerably with the growth of social ventures internationally (Vromen & Smith 2012).  Political consumers choose particular producers or products when shopping because they want to use their market power to change institutional or market practices (Stolle et al 2005 in Vromen & Smith 2012).  This can include buying specific goods and services (such as fair trade, cruelty free, environmentally sustainable) as well as boycotting them because of undesirable business practices (slavery or environmental destruction in production chains) (Vromen, Smith 2012).  It can be action taken on an individual’s initiative or as part of a wider campaigns run by coalitions to mobilise consumers (Vromen & Smith 2012).  Survey evidence from the 1980s and the 2000s suggests political consumerism has increased over the past two decades, from a minority fringe activity to one used by around half the population (Vromen & Smith 2012).  This has significant ramifications for how all businesses operate as people can mobilise support for or complain about business practices quickly using social media.

Vromen and Smith (2012) found that more recent Australian political consumerism has become framed around four distinct goals: (1) social justice (e.g. fair trade and buying Indigenous goods), (2) environmental sustainability (e.g. changing energy sources), (3) animal rights (e.g. boycotting for and buying free range eggs) and (4) communal identity (e.g. buying Australian or buying locally) (Vromen & Smith 2012).


Section 2_disaplines of business

A final form of action being created that uses both technology and the practice of business to create change is “collective consumption”.  This is where a product or service is shared through a community online.  Examples include car sharing, lending services (of personally owned tools, appliances, equipment, etc), and apps where people can swap labour or favours.  Using a mass of people reduces costs and makes the use of resources more efficient.  Time magazine counted collective consumption as one of its ten ideas that will change the world (Botsman 2010).

Watch FYA’s young people use consumerism to build communities and create change

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  1. Young people are a vital resource
  2. Future challenges for young people
  3. The transition from school to work
  4. Contributing to and leading change