How can young people change the world? Top tips from a youth activist

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Joe Myers Writer, Formative Content

  • Melati Wijsen was just 12-years-old when she co-founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags in Bali.
  • She offers her tips for other young people hoping to drive change.
  • Her generation has great potential to be change-makers, she believes.

Melati Wijsen was just 12-years-old when she founded Bye Bye Plastic Bags with her younger sister in Bali. The organization imagines a world free of plastic bags, but also one where people – in particular, young people – feel empowered to act justly.

More recently she’s also co-founded YOUTHTOPIA, an educational platform for young change-makers.

In a recent interview with the World Economic Forum, she gave her top tips for young people wanting to drive change, and explained why she thinks her generation is ready to make a difference.

Ready to make change

“I am excited about almost everything when it comes to our generation,” she says. “We know we can’t wait until we’re older and so we’re leading by example and not waiting for permission.

“I think as a generation we understand that we don’t have the luxury of time, that we need to start leading with examples from the grassroots up.”

Redefining our values

Achieving impactful change in 2021 requires education and an exchange of knowledge, but also a shift in our mindsets, Wijsen believes.

“What it comes down to is adjusting and redefining our norms and values, so we’re back in touch with our purpose and we’re able to make decisions based on those values,” she explains.

She gives the example of the environment, where we’re not placing enough value on Mother Nature. She says 2020 has challenged us to take pause and reflect on how we value things. “There was really no other option.”

What is a Global Shaper?

The Global Shapers Community is a network of young people under the age of 30 who are working together to drive dialogue, action and change to address local, regional and global challenges.

The community spans more than 8,000 young people in 165 countries and territories.

Teams of Shapers form hubs in cities where they self-organize to create projects that address the needs of their community. The focus of the projects are wide-ranging, from responding to disasters and combating poverty, to fighting climate change and building inclusive communities.

Examples of projects include Water for Life, a effort by the Cartagena Hub that provides families with water filters that remove biological toxins from the water supply and combat preventable diseases in the region, and Creativity Lab from the Yerevan Hub, which features activities for children ages 7 to 9 to boost creative thinking.

Each Shaper also commits personally and professionally to take action to preserve our planet.

Join or support a hub near you.

Top tips for young people

“I know that to start something can be incredibly daunting, especially at a young age,” she says.

That’s one of the reasons she started YOUTHTOPIA, to bring young people together from around the world, to share ideas, to “literally pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, how are we going to change the world today?'”

Her advice to other young people hoping to change the world?

1. Involve the community

“Well, first and foremost, you always have to do your research, because it’s so important that you understand what is happening locally in your area. Who are the key players? Who are the people that you really need to convince who are preventing the change from happening?”

Involving the community right from the start of projects is vital, she explains, “helping them really own the project so that the long-term change is always there”.

It’s important that you’re clear on what it is that you want to achieve, she says. And you can’t do it on your own: “Build a team around you.”

2. Make space to make change

It’s also important to make space in everyday life to demand change, and make room for activism around leisure time. “What does a normal childhood look like?” she asks.

Growing up in Bali, she says she used to make time to play soccer and go to the beach, as well as engaging in activism by collecting signatures.

“I also had beach cleanups and then afterwards we’d go for a surf. So it’s about creating these spaces… actually encouraging [young people] to follow their ideas and actually turn them into reality.”

3. Learn by doing

“Learning by doing and learning from mistakes” is important, Wijsen explains.

“No mistake is a mistake. It’s only a mistake if you don’t learn from it,” she says, a philosophy with which she credits her parents.

4. Have fun as you do it

“Be serious about change, but don’t forget to have fun,” she concludes. “Our generation has this creative ability to connect the dots and bring ideas into reality in a fun and creative way.”


  1. Whether young people are looking to start their own businesses or simply get involved in causes they’re passionate about, these are a great few ways to begin things. Getting involved in the community, as well as having community members become involved themselves, is especially vital.

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