Track Sessions III

I. Youth as New Forces for Social Good: 'How can we bring youth to the forefront of building sustainable cities?'


  • Bonnie CHIU Founder and CEO, Lensational
  • Sophie HEALY-THOW Co-Owner and Co-Founder, Agrikua
  • Jigyasa LABROO Co-founder and CEO, Slam Out Loud


  • Ming Wai LAU Vice-Chairman, Youth Development Commission

Participation in entrepreneurship and social business can be empowering for young people. This opportunity was highlighted by various panellists as important to pursue, particularly for young women who might feel that raising a family was the only path they could follow as adults. Ms Bonnie Chiu, Founder and CEO of non-profit social enterprise Lensational, introduced herself by explaining the relevance of her work to this goal of empowerment. She said her organisation operated across 21 countries that helped women learn photography, so as to give them a voice and a chance to earn a livelihood. Ms Sophie Healy-Thow, a youth activist who promotes food security, gender equality and anti-bullying, echoed the importance of involving young women in business, describing her work to help women to work in agriculture.

Each of the panellists advocated for giving young people a greater voice in society. Youth programmes often failed to truly listen to young people, they said, resulting in these programmes being run with young people, rather than for them. Ms Jigyasa Labroo, Founder and CEO of Slam Out Loud, an initiative at Arts for Social Change, India, said she had noticed as a teacher that students did not feel they had a voice in the classroom as a result of overly restrictive school curriculums. Her movement used the arts to encourage students to break out of this constriction by developing social and emotional skills. Ms Healy-Thow, who is only 21 years old herself, described her experiences of youth engagement programmes, saying she had seen examples of ‘adultism’, a term used to describe discrimination against or disregard of young people’s ideas.

The panel then reflected on how to overcome ‘adultism’. Ms Healy-Thow spoke about the need to build trust between generations as she felt young people often could not trust others to listen to their opinions. Feminist-based leadership had principles on how to listen and be inclusive, which could be instructive here. Ms Chiu suggested we think more deliberately about the identities (gender, age, sexuality etc.) of people with whom we interacted. Through this approach, she had realised that despite focusing her work on empowering young people, she was speaking mostly to middle-aged men. She also suggested that political systems needed to be rethought so that those most affected by decisions regarding the future, i.e. the younger generation, had a greater say in them. She cited the recent Brexit referendum as an example of older generations forcing their will on younger ones and questioned the logic of those under 18 years old having no say in democratic processes.

Speakers were then asked to describe the most pressing challenges facing young people in the cities where they worked. Ms Chiu, talking about HK, lamented the lack of hope and inspiration among young people. She suggested this problem was caused by the pressure they faced to achieve material success. To overcome it, Ms Labroo suggested we should encourage young people to think about the problems they wanted to solve rather than the work they wanted to do. Speaking about her experience in India, she said that skills shortages were the most important challenge to address for youth. Students in India still tended to receive an education that emphasised rote learning, rather than teaching skills more relevant to life. Ms Healy-Thow spoke about housing availability as a key challenge facing young people in her home town of Cork, Ireland. She recommended that better communication between those in power and young people could help address this issue.

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