Don't worry Canada, we will be there

Despite public perceptions, Generation Y may be the most engaged generation in some time and, in Canada, the talent pool of dynamic and thoughtful young leaders is quite possibly the deepest of any country in the world.

For many people today, Generation Y — the term loosely given to those born between 1980 and 1994 — is viewed as apathetic and selfish. We are often portrayed in the media as the Twitter generation more consumed with our own comings and goings than interested in casting our ballot.

For these and other reasons, a growing sense of pessimism seems to be creeping into the public discourse about the future of Canada as the torch gets ready to be passed.

The reality, however, is quite different. Generation Y may in fact be the most engaged generation in some time and, in Canada, the talent pool of dynamic and thoughtful young leaders is quite possibly the deepest of any country in the world. 

This is a generation after all that has been "raised on volunteer trips abroad, climate change on TV and everything 'save the world,' " says Dev Aujla, 24, who would know.

Aujla is one of those dynamic young leaders, the founder of DreamNow, an organization that seeks to find ways for young people to make money and change the world at the same time.

Not your parent's activism

Indeed, the case can be made that more and more young Canadians not only have a vision of what their country and the world should look like, but they also have bold new ideas for how to achieve that objective.

What's more, if there is a commonality that seems to be prevalent among the Gen Y set, it is the disenchantment with traditional politics and the desire to effect change not through old-style activism, but through innovation and direct, one-on-one involvement. 

In that grey area where non-profit organizations meet business meet politics and gives birth to social entrepreneurism, Generation Y excels.

Consider Shawn Smith, 28. With a business background and a strong social conscience, he founded Global Agents for Change. In building what is probably the world's largest youth-run microcredit fund to support young entrepreneurs in developing nations, Smith bumped directly into the biggest barrier to breaking the cycle of poverty: education.

That led to the establishment of Education Generation, which seeks to duplicate the success of microcredit for young entrepreneurs by employing the same concept to provide student loans to ambitious youth in the Third World.

"We can't change the world all at once," says Smith. "But we can help someone change their world and that is a start."

Bite-size pieces

Katie Benjamin, 23, is another example of youth leadership in action. She grew up in Vancouver where she was always very aware of the tragedy that is the Downtown Eastside, the neighbourhood with the highest incidence of HIV/AIDS in North America, despite the influx of hundred of millions of dollars in government help.

Her solution — "to start to start chipping away at the issue" — is an organization she calls Womyn's Gym, which brings together fellow students in her university health program with women from the Downtown Eastside.

Simply by getting together and sharing ideas about nutrition, exercise and healthy living, they hope to find more personalized ways to break the cycle of poverty and addiction.

All of these young leaders are joining the likes of Free the Children, TakingITGlobal, Ryan's Well Foundation, the Canadian Association of Girls in Science and, my group, the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition in sparking a debate among their peers — and sharing ideas — about the world they are about to inherit.

Personally, I know and work with dozens of these young leaders and am aware that they, in turn, are inspiring dozens more everyday to become engaged in the issues they care about.

Emboldened by a growing number of youth-led projects and organizations, and deploying the connectivity of agents such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, Canada's Generation Y is coming of age with a real sense of ownership of the challenges it faces.

These challenges can seem overwhelming when you are talking about issues such as climate change, terrorism and the fallout from the global economic meltdown, just to name a few.

But today's young people are taking on these problems in their own style, differently, I would argue, than their parent's generation, which had a whole other idea about "taking it to the streets" — and the voting booth.

Political engagement remains critical to our world and my generation must find a way to connect with mainstream politics. But that is something, too, that we will find our own way of going about.

"I think because society judges engagement in policy debate either through the political process or benevolence, much of the work twenty-somethings are doing goes under the radar," argues Aujla. And he's absolutely right.

The reality is today's youth have a heightened understanding of the interconnectivity of the problems we face and are attempting to find small, digestible chunks that we can relate to and work with to bring about change.

Aujla, along with Smith, Benjamin and thousands of others are proof that Canada's future will be fine.