Skip to main content

How can youth programs help the Greta Thunbergs of the world to emerge?

By Rebecca Meyer

Greta Thunberg
Greta Thunberg addresses climate
strikers in Denver on Oct. 11, 2019.
In recent weeks, we've seen youth around the world pushing for action on the climate crisis. One of the influencers mobilizing people to act is Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old from Sweden. She is not the only young leader to tackle this monumental challenge. Young people started their own movements because they saw a need for action -- and a lack of it from adult leaders.

Their global influence has me wondering how we can foster more change makers through our youth programs. What does it take for such transformative influence to emerge?

Through the lens of the program innovation model, change-making starts with people who are willing to try innovative strategies. Support for change-making comes from family, friends and others. Two more factors help people to take an innovative leap: The first is engaging change-makers in teams that help them understand different world views, identify and feel comfortable taking action. The second is providing them with effective approaches to identify opportunities to make change and learn from these attempts.

Many young people seem willing or eager to tackle big problems like climate change. So it seems that one role youth development organizations could play is to help young people make the leap to innovative change-making.

I can see some potential strategies for doing this:
  • Help young people to have a healthy innovation mindset and identify needs and opportunities to make change.
  • Invite and support youth in teams. Help them share and understand different world views and ways of making change.
  • Provide strong and safe approaches for raising and sharing their innovative ideas, trying these, and learning from successes and mistakes.
  • Host celebration events and find other ways to show young people the support they have from family, friends and others.

We might also help youth better understand the conceptual underpinnings and drivers of problems like climate change in order to better identify viable change strategies.

How do you create spaces in which youth can take a leap? How can we do it without getting in their way or minimizing their roles as change makers?

-- Rebecca Meyer, Extension educator

You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam
Print Friendly and PDF


  1. As your co-author on the model, I appreciate that you've been able to apply it in the context of a program and helping youth make innovative leaps. I think it's a natural translation, and ever more critical as Extension works with communities to address wicked problems like climate change. I also appreciate the questions you've raised and opportunities for further inquiry. For example, I wonder if using the framework can help us in Extension or other youth programs identify strategies to build on existing programs. I also think it may be fruitful to interview some young change-makers to see what kinds of people, meetings or other factors supported and challenged their innovation to see if the factors indeed fit well. Good luck in continuing to build on this work.

  2. Hello! As your “other” co-author on this work , I appreciate this discussion! A few questions come to mind as I reflect on your blog: I wonder the role of community in supporting youth to take “the leap?” How does community help to propel innovation once the leap is taken and help youth continue to grow as leaders to be change makers in their communities? Does this support change overtime or are their “constants” that are core & drive the innovation? I like Nate’s idea of asking youth. Perhaps an adaptive set of questions based on the survey to we sent Extension professionals? Thanks for the opportunity to continue our conversation about our work!

  3. And, Greta Thunberg is the Time Person of the Year!


Post a Comment