“This generation is in a position of both great vulnerability and great potential. Since movements of oppression as well as movements of liberation have been fuelled by the energy and dynamism of youth, it is critical to channel that energy positively.”
The first time I encountered the incomparable Jennifer Corriero, I was attending Microsoft’s 2010 Asia-Pacific Innovative Teachers Conference in Singapore. I was immediately taken by her energy, enthusiasm and commitment to engaging a new generation of young people in meaningful dialogue around leadership for a better world. A few months later, she was a keynote presenter at the iEARN International conference in Toronto, where she was also the lead organizer of this organization’s important youth summit. I was immediately struck by her powerful character, and I knew that I was encountering a woman who is, quite simply, making the world a better place.
Her Twitter name is Jenergy, and it’s no wonder. Since 1999, when TakingITGlobal (TIG) was an idea shared with Michael Furdyk (the young entrepreneur she would later marry), Jennifer has become a star on the international youth leadership circuit. TIG, a respected Canadian NGO whose vision is “Youth everywhere actively engaged and connected in shaping a more inclusive, peaceful and sustainable world,” has attracted close to a quarter million young members from over 260 countries, all inspired by the call to meaningful connections through emerging technologies, while they work together to address some of our most pressing global problems. Jennifer is a tireless visionary, as comfortable with international leaders as she is with groups of high school students, and her advice and wisdom are widely sought at important summits and conferences.
“We need to unlock the potential of the new generation” she says, and her active participation in youth leadership initiatives backs up her beliefs. “My message for principals and teachers is one about the need to design schools as a place for learning through discovery, dialogue and community, where technology is integrated across subject areas and where the classroom includes students from all over the world.”
Herewith, an interview with my inaugural SuperPal, Jennifer Corriero.
What inspired you to devote your professional life to your work with young people?
I have committed the past 10 years to developing programs that promote youth leadership through the power of technology, because young people are influential, they are active, they have access to unprecedented information and resources via the internet, and they are the future of our society. My motivation derives from my own experience as a teenager where I learned so much about my own voice and potential to contribute to the world through volunteerism and participation in social action projects and advisory groups.
How can teachers make a difference?
We need to unlock the potential of the Net-Generation (N-Geners). Our current and future generations of students are growing up in a digital age where school is a place that is at risk of becoming irrelevant.
One of the other greatest challenges is ensuring that resources reach young people in all parts of the globe, not just in the big cities. We need to push ourselves to design and create inclusive, participatory mechanisms that can reach those who are most vulnerable and isolated. This can be achieved through creating inviting and interactive spaces both online and in-person where youth can co-create learning experiences and new discoveries to improve communities.
An effective online global classroom brings together students from diverse geographic, cultural and economic backgrounds to share information, resources and experiences, preparing them to become effective, compassionate leaders in adulthood. The global classroom represents the future of learning – and the future is now!
What factors have propelled TIG to achieve such broad and enthusiastic success with the new generation of leaders?
N-Geners view their community in a global context, and are ready to engage with peers around the world as never before. Through social networks like Facebook and MySpace, young people are moving beyond the “posse” or “clique” model, which focuses on conformity, rules, and exclusion, into a “social network” model, which is flexible, porous, and inclusive. TakingITGlobal is based on this social network model as it allows youth to socialize and interact with their peers, but for the purpose of social good. We are often referred to as the “social network for social good,” because we provide youth from around the world with real opportunities to engage in decision-making, analysis, and creating change in their communities.
Success can also be attributed to our multilingual team as they are constantly striving to make TIG more inclusive by increasing the number of languages that TIG is available in. Currently we are at 12 languages and will be adding Bengali and Swahili soon! Over time we have learned that out greatest success is the dynamism and commitment to the team we attract, volunteers, interns, staff, advisors and board members.
What are you most proud of in your work?
I’m really proud of my efforts to ensure that children and youth are an integral part of designing, shaping and creating a more sustainable future. I recently led an initiative called the Youth Task Force with the World Economic Forum, which gathered responses from over 3000 youth aged 8-25 on these questions:
- What if you could redesign the world?
- What would it look like, act like?
- How would it work?
- What would you focus on and what are your solutions and suggestions on how best to go about fixing the problems?
I then had the amazing opportunity to present the responses to world leaders in Davos. The next step is for world leaders and senior decision makers in corporations who are focused on shaping initiatives to redesign the world, to make the commitment to include youth as part of the design and solution implementation process. One of our advisors at TIG (Don Tapscott), put it well when he said, “Youth have powerful new tools for inquiry, analysis, self-expression, influence and play … They are shrinking the planet in ways their parents could never imagine.”
How do you stay optimistic about the future, when we are constantly reminded of the negative forces impacting our world?
I remain optimistic by focusing on the power we have to create positive change. This generation is in a position of both great vulnerability and great potential. Since movements of oppression as well as movements of liberation have been fuelled by the energy and dynamism of youth, it is critical to channel that energy positively. Youth are often known for having a sense of idealism and hope – I have witnessed first hand how youth can channel their hopes and ideas into creating positive change, often through the use technology. Through this I am able to remain very positive and optimistic about our future.
Who inspires you today?
Young leaders inspire me each and every day. The United Nations Population Fund has revealed that over 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 25. This upcoming generation represents a portion of the world’s population that has the power to transform the world in new ways! I am inspired by the work I have already seen them doing, and am excited to see what comes next!
Natasha Sahijwala is an example of an inspiring young leader. She is a recent Sprout alumni and Pearson Fellowship participant who developed a project called the Green Machine. Her project aims to inspire students pursuing engineering/vocational courses in Mumbai to use their skills and knowledge to create innovative utility products that can provide a low-cost replacement for an everyday activity/inefficient product. Natasha’s project will increase awareness among all stakeholders about environmental sustainability while revolutionizing small-scale manufacturing in Mumbai.
What are your goals for TIG?
At TakingITGlobal our task is twofold: to comprehensively improve the access of youth to critical tools of social change, and to nurture the idealism and hope of youth, empowering them through meaningful learning opportunities to leverage the tools at their disposal for social good. In both cases, information and communications technologies present the potential to fill gaps in formal education systems and civil society, and connect youth with the knowledge, skills and networks they need to create change in their own lives and communities. Our goal is to continue offering these opportunities in the most effective way possible!