Do you want to be the change? Get inspired with Jenni Nylander & Ungdomar AB
“The challenges we face may seem overwhelming and out of reach for us to solve. But that is not true. Each and every one of us can be an agent of change, no matter our age or means.”
That is what His Excellency Mr. Oh Joon, former President of the United Nations Economic and Social Council said at a UN forum earlier this year that focused on what youth can do to realize the Sustainable Development Goals. Many activities linked to Agenda 2030 are targeted for youth, however these activities need to also be developed with youth. Young leaders are key for implementing Agenda2030. In fact, many initiatives around the globe are already up and running.
One of them is Ungdomar AB, a value-driven company that creates and manages cross-sectorial collaboration between business and society, representing interests of young people. Ungdomar AB has also established the website Ungdomar.se to facilitate dialogue and collaboration. It is for youth between the ages 14-24, is mainly in Swedish and was launched in 2003. The intention is to provide a valuable safe space for youth in which they can discuss, connect and exchange with each other. Today Ungdomar.se is one of Sweden's largest youth sites. It has approximately 80,000 unique visitors a week, over 55,000 questions answered in their archives and the users have written more than staggering 10 million posts!
6 years ago Ungdomar AB noticed that discussions about sustainability issues had increased significantly on Ungdomar.se so it decided to start a new project, called we_change. Established to create cross-sectorial collaboration (from large global companies, to governmental authorities, to civil society), we_change has become the largest initiative for sustainability for high school students in Sweden! The project has a space on the website, but it’s also a physical platform where the partners engage with young people at events, workshops, panel discussions and hackatons. The project gives everyone the opportunity to learn from and inspire each other about sustainability issues and challenges.
SIANI Youth was interested to find out more about we_change and excited to get the opportunity to speak to Jenni Nylander, who is responsible for business development at Ungdomar AB.
Q: What is the biggest challenge in getting young people to join in we_change? Have you ever had to give up ideas that didn’t work?
JN: Well, it is more or less mandatory for the participants of we_change to attend our events that their schoolteachers sign them up to. We thought that this approach would initially create a gap between the project and the students, however approximately 90% of responses are positive. The students say that they have been inspired to make changes in their personal lives after their participation in we_change. Hence, we’ve seen that we are able to gain their attention and trust.
However, the problems appear afterwards. How can we ensure long-term change among the youth we meet? How can we provide the support that they need? The project is based on a dynamic process where we allow ourselves to make errors and use these as learning points for next we_change activities. We don’t use a magic wand when we plan so we need to give space for spontaneity as well.
Q: What is the most inspiring that has happened in the project?
JN: It is very hard to choose the most inspiring actually! I have been part of Ungdomar.se and we_change for so many years and met over 15,000 students and their teachers. Inspiring things always happen when you put youth in the centre and discuss their future. One thing I will never forget was one event at which a very shy looking girl forced herself on stage to perform a rap song; she was so inspired by some of the questions raised at the event and just wanted to speak out. The contrast of her shyness and her willingness to voice her opinion was magical!
Q: SIANI Youth is interested to engage with youth and young professionals around food and farming. How has we_change engaged with young people on these topics? And what was the response?
JN: The questions regarding food security, sustainable production, healthy diets and the issues of hunger are always relevant in the context of we_change. And it really is something that engages youth! Over the years we have had several collaborations linked to this theme with partners such as The Federation of Swedish Farmers LRF, KRAV, ICA and Sida. If I would briefly analyse the results of these interactions I can see that there is a major confusion or even conflict on the matter of sustainable farming and food. Some young people are suspicious towards organic farming and eco-friendly products whereas others engage profoundly in the vegetarianism movement. However, the majority of youth in we_change wants the food sector to do much more than what they’re currently doing and believes products should be produced locally as opposed to globally. There is still a knowledge gap, as many young people have lost the connection to agriculture. They know very little how food is produced and how the life cycle of a food product looks like.
Q: If we would talk about impact, do you think that we_change influences young people? How do you see we_change in the future?
JN: We make surveys with the students that participate in we_change before and after their involvement. We can see that the main impact is related to young people’s belief in themselves. The trust in their own capacity to impact decision-makers triples! We see young people changing their stance on certain topics and also a remarkable shift in willingness and motivation to participate in building a sustainable society.
we_change is growing every year. To ensure the project’s long-term goals we now also provide meeting opportunities and workshops for the schoolteachers. If you look at the evolution of the project we see that we are moving from organising specific events in different schools towards being a supportive complementary process for schools to engage with in order to increase their students’ awareness about and capacity to act on sustainability issues. We now also see ourselves as influencers in this field and we aim to provide more knowledge back to society from the statistics we collect to improve decision-making on municipal and national levels.
We are planning to increase our digital presence and online communication with young people. we_change is an ever moving and growing bubble that will change and transform as long as there is a demand from the youth.