In 2013, a young girl was pictured at the New York Stock Exchange, all wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, tutu included. At only nine years of age, and alongside the likes of Patrick Stewart, Biz Stone and Dick Costolo, she was there to ring the bell on the morning of Twitter’s IPO. Vivienne Harr caught the world’s attention the previous year when she set up a lemonade stand to raise money in a bid to help end child slavery after she saw a photo of Nepalese children hauling rocks down a mountain. The quarry the children were hauling rocks from was filled with child slaves. Harr raised $101,320 over 173 consecutive days for the charity Not For Sale and her story ignited on social media. Fast-forward a few years and Vivienne continues in her quest to end slavery, which has included changing up the charity space and founding the app Make A Stand, using Twitter as a communication tool and selling lemonade in national grocery stores. Pretty great, right?
The power of young people to shift mindsets and make a difference is not a new concept; but today might be one of the first times in history where they have the tools to take definitive steps to push change through to its conclusion. From the power of social media and technological innovation, to movie content aimed at the young and passionate, it’s now more than ever that young people can rally around a message, belief or an injustice and actually do something about it.
In The Divergent Series, we meet a young Tris, tethered to her parents, unsure of her identity and doubtful of the power within herself. It’s only as she overcomes her fears and grows in the confidence of her true identity as a Divergent that she can chase justice for those living in a dystopian world. At the end of Insurgent we see the factioned and the factionless unite. And it’s the kids who have made it happen, fueled by passion, framed by fearlessness and supported by technology — a trend that is happening in the world today.
Actor Patrick Stewart, nine-year-old Vivienne Harr, Cheryl Fiandaca of the Boston Police Department and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams pose before ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange in New York. Photograph: NYSE/Handout via ReutersAs we all know, over the last decade there has been an undoubtable revolution in the way information is released. Social channels and content sites offer us alternative communication platforms to reach an audience, absorb information, build relationships and do business. From Snapchat to WhatsApp, Instagram to YouTube and everything in between, the digital space is now a second skin — offering immediate tools for the young to take hold of, arming a tribe of passionate, media-savvy people with everything they need to stand up and make a difference.
These individuals are not beholden to an out-of-reach charitable foundation and their physical involvement is as encouraged as their voice. Can you sleep out on Capitol Hill or go on an organized walk to raise awareness? Yes. Can you don a T-shirt? Yes. Can you sign an online petition? Yes. Can you tweet and Instagram to your heart's content? Yes. Can you buy hip, branded merchandise? Yes. Those involved might not necessarily be cash rich, but can easily slide into activist roles by joining a virtual and physical community of like-minded people, inspired to be a force for good, using all the weapons of contemporary culture to spread their message. From social entrepreneurs and YouTube stars, to kids with lemonade stands and protesters with smartphones in hand and hashtags in mind, there is an increasing wave of individuals ready to broadcast their voice for change in a way that's untainted, fearless and free. Philanthropy and activism has never been cooler, or the World Wide Web more altruistic.
Connor Franta started his YouTube channel in 2010. He has since amassed more than 5 million subscribers and 318 million views. For the past two years he has given up his birthday, asking his followers to send gifts by way of a donation to the Thirst Project, a charity that mobilizes young people to help end the global water crisis. Over two birthdays Connor raised more than $420,000 ensuring 35 new wells and invaluable amounts of awareness in earned media value. And he hasn’t just been raising money. Connor also used the platform to come out as gay, promoting discussion and encouraging many of his fans to be courageous and self-accepting in the same way.
The Divergent Series’ very own Ansel Elgort has also been active in raising money to build wells in Swaziland with the Thirst Project, encouraging the film’s audience and his own fans to contribute financially to something bigger than ourselves. Every dollar makes a difference, and in return? Win a lunch date with Elgort himself. In this new philanthropic economy there are rewards for doing good — and it involves the young, hot things of Hollywood.
And it’s not just individual change makers who are working for a better tomorrow. In many cases, what starts on a grassroots level can grow to become a global conversation. On an international scale, the use of the Internet — from social media to blogging platforms — by young change makers in order to disrupt the status quo was none more evident than during the Arab Spring of 2011, where numerous revolutionary demonstrations saw rulers toppled in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and civil uprisings in Syria and Bahrain. Meanwhile, back on US soil, the Black Lives Matter movement was started when Alicia Garza wrote a Facebook post titled “A Love Note To Black People,” and which included the words, “Our lives matter, Black Lives Matter.” Her co-founder Patrisse Cullers responded with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter and after Opal Tometi also added her support, a campaign was born — a campaign that reached millions instantaneously via social media. It's since expanded into protests and marches, gained invaluable amounts of press attention and individual and influencer engagement. What started off as a social post has evolved into a national movement tackling some of the most pressing issues of our day.
Whether you’re creating change by picking up a glass of lemonade or entering a competition to date a Hollywood hunk, it’s obvious that everyone has the capacity to be a change maker, irrespective of time, talent or money. It’s a mindset we can all adopt to shape the world collectively. The action can be as small as sending a tweet or as large as organizing a national protest. Even the greatest opportunities for change start small, as seeds in the ground — you just have to find the confidence within and ask the right questions, like Tris and the multitudes of other young change makers around the world. How will you participate? What do you care about? How do you want the world to improve? You’ve already got the tools you need to create change — remember, these things start as conversations. And conversations lead to action. They lead to movement. As Vivienne Harr said on the day of the Twitter IPO:
“Today, we rang the bell for hope and freedom, and I just would like to tell everyone out there that you don’t have to be big or powerful to change the world — you can be just like me.”
'The Divergent Series: Allegiant' hits theaters on March 18!