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Stories about heroes are as old as time itself. For as long as people have been gathering together, they have told stories about the people that inspire and impress them. Indeed, stories about heroes benefit us in so many ways. According to Scott T Allison’s article, ‘5 Surprising Ways That Heroes Improve Our Lives’, they offer a salve to our psychological wounds, calm our fears, nourish our hopes and help us to foster strength and resilience. They help us to connect with others, feeding our sense of social identity. By nurturing the emotion of elevation, they can help us to turn into heroes ourselves, through a desire to be more like them. 

Traditionally, the heroes of a community or society have been its elders. Many tribal communities, for example, consider their elders to be the ‘wisdom-keepers’ and hold them in the highest regard. Indeed, in 2007 Nelson Mandela founded a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights, a group who call themselves The Elders. There is huge value in learning from the wisdom and experience that older people have accrued throughout their lives. In recent years, however, there has been a shift in focus, towards the value that younger people offer. Generations Y and Z are looking at a future where they will have to tackle the many challenges that the world faces: climate change, deforestation, inequality, resource depletion and many more. They are harnessing their energy and enthusiasm, as well as the wisdom of their elders, to drive the change that the world so urgently needs. 

This International Youth Day, we would like to take the opportunity to recognise the incredible work that young heroes are capable of doing. One of the most famous is Greta Thunberg, who – aged just 15 – established the school strike for the climate, which has spread from her home town in Sweden to cities and towns across the world, inspiring millions of young people to take action to protect the planet. Now 17, she has spoken at the World Economic Forum, famously saying that ‘our house is on fire’, and spoken at two UN summits, sailing across the Atlantic in order to speak at the UN’s Climate Action Summit in New York City. Greta has ignited the global conversation about taking action to save our planet, but has also demonstrated that living with autism does not need to limit your aspirations – in fact, many would argue that her way of speaking plainly and without fear has been hugely beneficial to the causes she is fighting.

Malala Yousafzai is another young woman who has shown fearlessness and grace whilst fighting for what she believes in. Aged 15, she was on the school bus in Pakistan when she was shot in the head by the Taliban, in retaliation for her views around education for girls. Far from being cowed, following her recovery Malala has become a prominent activist for the right to education, co-founding the Malala Fund, speaking at the UN, opening schools and becoming the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Greta and Malala are two remarkable young women whose activism, passion and dedication have rightly earned them global recognition. However, there are many, many more who are less famous but who drive real and tangible change in their communities and countries. Teach the Future is a campaign led by students in secondary and tertiary education to repurpose the UK education system around the climate emergency and ecological crisis. They are demanding a review of current practices, teacher training, priority for sustainability in school inspections and a new emergency act of parliament. Teach the Future is entirely youth-led and a brilliant example of young people driving the change they want to see – the very definition of heroic!

Countless examples of heroism from young people can be found among the Young Leaders for the Sustainable Development Goals: 17 global citizens who have been recognised for their ‘outstanding leadership in their efforts to achieve the Goals’. They include Rita Kimani, a 25-year-old Kenyan who founded a social enterprise that connects unbanked and underserved smallholder farmers to credit; and 23-year-old Vincent Loka of Indonesia who has created a social enterprise that provides rapid access to clean drinking water in disaster-hit locations.  

It’s important to remember that heroism is not reliant on public attention. The young person who takes the time to observe what it is that they can do to make a positive difference to their community (whether that community is their family or the world) and takes action, is a hero. Our programmes at Routes to Resilience are designed to help everyday heroes to gain access to relevant information, and develop their skillsets, such as systems thinking, sustainability mindset, creative thinking, self-belief, agility and resilience, so they can become the leaders that their world and their communities need, now and in the future. If you want to unleash the hero inside you, we’d be delighted to welcome you onto one of our programmes. You can find out more about them by clicking on the links below.

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