Youth is an attitude, not a number. It is fundamentally a growth mindset that global health leaders of all ages should embrace to imagine and deliver innovative solutions to our field’s complex challenges.
We, the youth, thank all those before us who helped define our problems and gather the evidence to shape effective approaches. P-values, economic analyses, and menus of solutions in hand, we now find ourselves staring deep into the chasm between evidence and action, offering unique currency to build a bridge to our shared goals:
Influence policy and healthy behaviors. Social media is no longer a trend; it is the norm. Youth, of course, are the first to download, update, plug in, take risks and embrace new technologies. Now worth over $1.7 billion, the social media influencer industry is a perfect example of our adoptive and adaptive mindset in action. Take Hazel Wallace (also known as @thefoodmedic), a young London-based doctor and successful health and fitness influencer. You might say her “clinic” does the impossible, consulting almost a quarter of a million “patients”—her Instagram followers—daily.
Foster connected communities. The youth mindset is inherently social—wired for connection and community. The strength of our communities runs deep through subreddit comments and is backed by the transparency of blockchain. More connected than ever before, we’re now actively using mainstream platforms to share our dissatisfaction with the status quo, and our visions for a healthier future (think #MeToo and #NeverAgain).
Promote collaboration. As the global health workforce and leadership shifted from being dominated by medical practitioners, a not-so-coincidental shift from competitive to collaborative approaches also unfolded. We’ve welcomed this change and want to collaborate in co-creating and crowdsourcing our future. It is not young against old—we want to leverage the strengths and perspectives of all ages to find the best solutions. To do this, we want and need an equal and respected seat at the table. Please teach us, we want to learn. Please listen, we want to share.
Prevent NCDs. We’re both a target audience and an intervention. Young people with NCD risk factors become adults with NCDs. As the WHO noted recently, today’s young people “are starting their journey towards an untimely death now,” barring implementation of bolder preventive measures. When it comes to reducing primary behavioral risk factors, youth are heavily influenced by their environment and by their peers—real and virtual. If we engage meaningfully in generating and implementing solutions across all sectors, our community and collaborative spirit will lead to systemic change. Please, “nothing about us without us.”
We are the bold, innovative solution you’re looking for. Our approach is one of anticipatory innovation that “utilizes greater foresight, is inclusive of multiple disciples, and has a greater sensitivity to social and ecological processes.” For example, NCDFREE’s physical-digital campaign Feast of Ideas brought together thousands of people across 50+ countries to discuss important global health issues online, and in person over a healthy meal.
And, we’re good for your bottom line. Youth engagement can increase productivity and secure the longevity of organizations. Inspired employees are more productive, and young people increasingly seek purpose over paychecks.
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses in youth utopia; our greatest value may also be our Achilles heel. It’s difficult to contain our abundant passion, energy, and vision into a crystal clear message. We now need to map our skills and our efforts and work out a system to effectively share and trade. This is where you, our global health leaders and mentors, come in. Help us to hone our skills and messages by harnessing and investing in our fresh eyes and passion. With the UN High-level Meeting on NCDs just around the corner, there’s no time like the present to start building communities, social brands, and solutions for our most pressing global health challenges, together.
Jessica Renzella is a PhD student in Population Health at the University of Oxford and Strategic Development Coordinator at NCDFREE. She has a Bachelor of Biomedicine and a Master of Public Health.
Lucy Richards is an explorer of the intersection of health and technology. She was the inaugural General Manager of Smiling Mind, which she grew to be Australia’s most successful wellbeing app with over 1 million users in 3 years. She is now the Executive Director of NCDFREE, a crowdsourced global social movement dedicated to getting NCDs on the map of young people.
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