How a new generation of activists is changing the world

Around the globe, young people are tapping into the power of technology to make their voices heard.

By Jessica Misener — May 31, 2019

They organize international strikes for climate change awareness, launch rallies that draw thousands to protest gun violence and speak up as powerful voices for their communities, from Syrian refugees to LGBTQ youth. These campaigners are on the front lines around the world passionately fighting against racism, sexism and authoritarian political regimes. Yet, some of today’s most fervent social activists aren’t even old enough to drive or vote in their home countries.

From the American civil rights movement to the Arab Spring — the world’s youth have always been at the forefront of change. Today, as climate change, economic instability and political unrest threaten their futures, young people’s voices — amplified by technology — are more important than ever.

“I see firsthand every day how young people are changing the world,” says Lori Adelman, director of youth engagement for Women Deliver, an advocacy organization for gender equality and women’s rights. “They tend to speak up very bravely. They challenge the norms. They're very collaborative with each other and intergenerationally. They work to build strategic networks of allies. So, they really drive positive change in a number of ways.”

Young people like Sweden’s 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, whose Fridays for Future climate change strikes are mobilizing students around the planet, are motivated, passionate and committed to solving the problems they see in the world around them. From Mari Copeny, a sixth-grader in Flint, Michigan, whose appeal to then-President Barack Obama got him to devote $100 million to fixing the city’s water crisis, to other young environmentalists like U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s 16-year-old daughter Isra Hirsi, today’s young people aren’t waiting for change to happen.

“To a well-motivated and committed young person, nothing is impossible.”

—Adebisi Adenipekun, founder, LightHouse Global Health Initiative

The energizing power of youth

In a time when people often dismiss younger generations as more engaged with their smartphones than with the world around them, young advocates are using every tool available to raise awareness and push back against injustice. And they’re not just posting their opinions on social media. They’re setting real change in motion.

Marinella Matejcic, a reproductive rights activist in Croatia, says her commitment springs from personal experience.  

“When you're growing up in a single-parent family in a war-torn country, without the support from the wider community, while watching how your family is being treated differently due to socio-economic and family-history circumstances, you start thinking differently,” she says.

Matejcic is fighting for meaningful comprehensive sexuality education in Croatia, where a majority of people are Roman Catholic and conservative. She works with the feminist group PaRiter, which stands up for women's rights, education and sexual and reproductive health, and says she’s inspired by working with others and co-creating new, positive narratives. In addition to her own initiatives, Matejcic also serves as a coordinator for, an group that advocates for sexual freedom and holds legislators accountable to keep abortion legal in Croatia.

Adebisi Adenipekun, a native of Nigeria and the founder of the LightHouse Global Health Initiative, says youth fortifies the kind of perseverance leaders need to achieve their goals. Adenipekun recently launched a project called Teens Thrive, which uses technology to reach adolescents with integrated health information and services, and his group is also working on a mobile platform to serve as a digital hub for HIV and sexual health education.

“People often associate youthfulness with strength, but I like to see it from the angle of tenacity — the ability to stick with a noble cause long enough to see a positive change,” he says.

Lori Adelman, director of youth engagement for Women Deliver, says today's young activists are challenging norms and building strategic networks to drive positive change.

David Alexander

Lori Adelman, director of youth engagement for Women Deliver, says today's young activists are challenging norms and building strategic networks to drive positive change.

How tech sparks transformation

About half of Americans have engaged in some form of political or social-minded activity on social media in recent years, according to a Pew Research study. But today’s youth, who grew up native to digital ecosystems, are especially equipped to use tech for good. From hardware to social media, young people are using the tools of today and tomorrow to create awareness, remove barriers to impact and fuel their activism.

“Technology can be a powerful tool for young leaders, particularly when it can amplify their work and advocacy,” says Michele Malejki, Global Head of Social Impact Programs at HP. 

Marley Dias, 14, is one activist who knows the power of a hashtag. She launched the #1000BlackGirlBooks campaign back in 2015, where she aimed to collect and donate 1,000 books that have a black girl as the main character. To date, Dias has amassed over 9,000 books and written her own, Marley Dias Gets it Done, a guide for young activists. Another young techie is 19-year-old Yara Hashidi, who founded the social media-fueled Eighteen x 18 initiative with online news publisher NowThis to encourage young people to vote in the 2018 midterms. Indian YouTuber Ajey Nagar, known as CarryMinati online, one of the site’s most famous video stars, proudly makes videos in Hindi instead of English, and urges Indians to fight prejudice and embrace their own identity.

Perhaps the most well-known young activists today are five teenagers who survived the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky, Jaclyn Corin and Alex Wind launched the #NeverAgain gun control hashtag movement, an online and grassroots effort that inspired the March for Our Lives Rally, one of the largest student protests in history.

"Through technology, this generation has grown up with a more global perspective than any previous generation,” HP’s Malejki says. “They can see and feel the challenges facing people in all parts of the world, and they are inspired to not just empathize, but actually solve these big issues."

Lisa MacIntosh

Uniting for change

Like Matejcic, Adenipekun also advocates for more comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education. He recently won a grant from Women Deliver to develop a project on the integration of HIV/AIDS awareness and sexual and reproductive health and rights among teens in Osun, Nigeria.

“Conversation around sex among young people is still considered as a taboo in my cultural context here in Nigeria, and the resistance is even more in rural communities,” Adenipekun says. “Meanwhile, people in rural [communities] have a higher prevalence of unwanted pregnancies, pregnancy related complications, and maternal and infant mortality. This reality calls for interventions such as comprehensive sexuality education and access to family planning information and services.”

Adenipekun says creativity and flexibility have been invaluable to him in his work as a leader.

“To a well-motivated and committed young person, nothing is impossible,” he says.

Both Matejcic and Adenipekun will speak at an HP-sponsored panel called “#ThePowerofStorytelling: How Can Technology Spark Stories of Advocacy?” at the Women Deliver conference next week in Vancouver, B.C. Held every three years, the Women Deliver conference unites people from across the globe to explore both big- and small-picture ideas around gender equality and womens’ and girls’ rights. HP is also providing technology, including HP Spectre laptops and HP Sprocket photo printers to 15 Women Deliver Young Leaders Program grant recipients at the conference. The International Rescue Committee and Girl Rising are also lending their voices on the Vancouver stage as key HP partners for programs such as Brave Girl Rising and the Girl Rising Creative Challenge.

Matejcic and Adenipekun will discuss how they’re using tech to shine a spotlight on the power of peer education to address the challenges young people — and young women in particular — face around the world today.

Today’s youth especially have a keen charge and investment in creating a more just world. There’s more at stake for generations that will live through the repercussions of climate change and their children and grandchildren. To shape a healthy future, it’s more important than ever to empower them, Adelman says.

“We know that any effort to achieve gender equity or make progress on our sustainable development goals really requires investment in meaningful opportunities for youth engagement,” she says. “We won't get there without young people.”