Youth. It's an ambiguous term. An ambiguous demographic. Who exactly are our youth?
Does youth begin where the teenage years end? Or does it begin years prior, when the Western school system expects high school students to begin shaping themselves for their future adult lives? Does youth end at 30? Perhaps 40? Is youth merely a matter of being ‘younger than’? If so, younger than whom, and what is the practical reason for compartmentalising?
The billions of people worldwide who qualify as youth (nearly 60 per cent of the world population was under the age of 35 in 2010) are a diverse, multi-layered slice of the global population pie. Our political leanings, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds, personal interests and aspirations are certainly not all cut from the same generational cloth.
Yet, much has already been written about the defining sociological traits of the homo sapiens juvenis. We are hyper-connected, an apparent testament to our desire to socialise, collaborate and act in networks. Many of us can’t imagine a world without internet, and fondly remember how cellular phones shrank from shoebox dimensions to razor-thin devices.
We learned how to recycle in our grade school classrooms, and grew up in a world qualified by words like ‘democracy’, ‘sustainable’, ‘fair’ and ‘open source’, ‘globalisation’, ‘equality’ and ‘debt’. We’ve also learned to question those qualifiers and innovate upon the bases we grew up observing and studying.
Even more ink has been shed trying to outline youth’s impact on the social and political fabric of various areas of the world in 2011. By integrating pre-existing institutions, or building our own, we are carving out our place in the world. Regardless of the platform, we approach it knowing that we will someday, sooner or later, be the ones held accountable for its record. In the meantime, we are assisting the transitions towards workplaces and communities shaped by the possibilities of today.
Within the cooperative movement, youth have been participating in shaping their cooperatives in new and inspiring ways. They have engaged with them as employees and members, helping shape these businesses’ identities as they continue to evolve and adapt to current needs. They have also, in the face of necessity or collective inspiration for as-yet unseen alternatives, been propelling the development of new cooperative models in innovative sectors.
Youth as a demographic may be an ambiguous – perhaps even amorphous – classification. However, the people falling under this classification are very real and very present in our cooperatives and our communities. In the coming months, this column will be addressing the multiple ways in which youth have already been making an impact in the cooperative movement, and exploring the opportunities ahead of us as we chart our course through the cooperative world.
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