Youth Leadership

(training) children and youth as agents of change in their communities has been part of civic education in North America (USA and Canada) for fifty yearsThe pillars are

  • youth exercising authority over themselves
  • when they move on, to pass on leadership to younger peers
  • civic purpose : to do good for people and planet
  • in practice : change lives and land, learning, laws and industries

Today, in contect of Global Learning at schools, of social media and escalating crisis, teenage hero*ines are appearing by the thousands all over the continent – without training. One group alone has made *creating a good world for all* part of learning culture at 16,000 schools powered by a mix of classroom teaching and student clubs. Their gatherings are official field trips and unite 350,000 youth with civic greats, broadcast 6 hours live on tv.

Youth examples, with starting age

Youth act from their own initiative, responding to challenges they see in their community, in media or learned of at school.

Xiuhtezcatl, 6

bans pesticides and fracking, sues the government, inspires millions via his positive change hip hop, has sparked over 300 crews on 6 continents

Mayerly, 12

activated 2.7 million children to vote on what future they want. Adults laid down weapons and changed laws

Robyn, 13

 made 30 towns pass the Blue Community Resolution, keeping water public, making it a human right, banning plastic bottles

Neha, 9

raises a monthly average of $15,000€, 2.7M in total, for orphanages full of love, peace, friendship, health, play, learning, IT, vocational training

Gabrielle, 12

leads 4,000 volunteers have boosted flow of free fresh food for people in need 10x, with 20 tons per month

Babar, 9

founded a village school, with 600 students by age 16. His first girl students are teachers at his newly built school today

Emma, 12

raised 500,000 books to build school & community libraries in remote aboriginal villages, her story is on cereal packs

Coral, 8

started a youtube show to educate kids and parents on yukky, sickening ingredients in popular foods

Jake and Simone, 12

were appalled when NGOs told them they were too young to volunteer, and founded a nationwide volunteen platform connecting ten thousands of youth to opportunities

Alexandra, 14

learned that her school was in a district with a 9x national average cancer rate due to a factory, for thirty years. Six months later it got closed. She helps youth do like she did

Katie, 14

offers creative writing courses for underpriviledged kids, compiles their stories in books and publishes on Amazon. 70 teenage volunteer trainers have joined her team

Elizabeth, 16

changed NY state’s bee laws, unlocked funding for research and organized volunteer-run pollinator awareness weeks in villages

When teens turn twens

Chloe Maxmin, 12

started a student club that put solar panels on her school and led the state’s largest reusable bag campaign

Chloe Maxmin, 18

At university, she co-founded Divest Harvard, which grew from 3 to 70,000 members and galvanized a global movement of unis, churches, cities and state funds divesting $7 trillion from fossil fuels

Chloe Maxmin, 23

Back home, Chloe ran for office in her rural, working class, most senior district of the US, and won it for the Democrats for the first time in history. Six months later she had scored the first Green New Deal, improved rape kit handling and better rural public transport for seniors

Chloe Maxmin, 25

During Covid-19, she activated 70 volunteers calling every senior in the state, providing health safety and grocery runs. Running against the state’s #1 Republican, she swayed many Trump voters and got elected Senator. With cross party allies, she works on banning aerial forest spraying and a constitutional change making nature a right for every citizen

The epitome of good governance, with 100% score cards from workers, seniors and environmentalists

At School

Craig, 12

formed a student club to liberate children from forced labor that spawned clubs at 16,000 schools

Watershed Warriors, 12

restored as watershed as biology class project, designed a state standard curriculum and teach it at five schools


formed a student club to recycle used oils to biofuel. 200 restaurants joined the program, and her crew donated $200,000€ worth of fuel to people in need

Hannah, 13

started a second hand cabinet at school for students from financially troubled families to equip themselves in dignity

Chloe (Falkenheim), 13

formed a Vegan Club at her school, soon had clubs at 25 schools and funds to help them run programs

Namaste Nepal, 14

raise funds to develop a valley in the Himalaya with libraries, schools, greenhouses, work visits … other schools join in 

Mackenzie, 17

ends poison use on campus by teaming up greenkeepers with students handpicking weeds, at now dozens of campuses

Allison, 16

was fed up with students suffering depression, suicide and adults doing nothing. Her student movement breaks the silence on mental health with ripple effects in school, lives, community and institutions

Inspired by their experiences in developing countries, building schools and encountering locals, “so poor they did not know what they would eat next week, but so happy … because they love so much”, Craig and Marc Kielburger decided “to bring this spirit back to Canada” and complement Free The Children’s work for partners abroad with local programs shifting focus from ME TO WE with a service-learning curriculum that is now used by teachers at 16,000 schools. To honor students’ efforts, to celebrate common achievements and to kick off a new year of action, they created WE Day, which has become an annual event in all major cities in Canada, now also in the USA, with a place in schools’ calendar as field trip. Students earn their ticket through one local and one global action. Do not judge this video by the form of the event, but witness that youth leadership at schools can take on  dimensions that positively shape the future of society. And this is what ESD and SDGs are about, when done right.


High value

for teachers

for students

for parents

for citizens

for the city

Youth Leadership obviously is a foundation of able active caring citizenship, as formulated as the purpose of schooling (often in § 1) in many laws of education, and with many benefits for learning culture, mental health and personal development. It can be swiftly sparked in any city, largely self-organized by youth. Youth will self-organize outside school, as they do with their favorite sports. However, the most important place to start is school, where all youth spend much of their daily life for ten or more years, especially in regions where youth leadership is new.

Changemaker Student Clubs are the strongest stakeholder. They operate in a safe setting with quality infrastructure, resources, support on demand, good public status, and direct access to many peers and supportive community of parents, partners and public services.

The essential elements required to inspire students, to enable self-organized action, how to create an enabling environment at school and in town, also the roles of teachers, parents and citizens are well known. The methodology is common sense, simple, and does not require considerable training, time or funding.