Changemakers

First steps towards real-world education: Victor Ye

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First steps

 

By Manat Kaur

Victor Ye found himself getting frustrated when his teachers didn’t seem interested in talking about how the curriculum connected to current events. Realizing his educational experience often disconnected him from the real world, Victor started InnovaYouth to change that — helping young people understand the world they live in and take advantage of opportunities available to them.

Victor spoke with Ashoka Young Changemaker Manat Kaur about the lessons he’s learned along the way, and how teammates and mentors helped him get there.

MK: Tell us about your project.

VY: InnovaYouth is a nonprofit that aims to promote social change by empowering young people to develop their skills in research, collaboration, and communication. We want to develop active and compassionate lifelong learners and innovative leaders. We enable youth to start initiatives that can solve community needs like environmental sustainability, anti-bullying, and even young voter engagement. Since founding InnovaYouth in 2018, we’ve impacted over 10,600 students in over 15 states and 14 countries, and hosted over 50 workshops and conferences on social responsibility.

When did you first realize you had to take action, and how did you come up with your idea?

In tenth grade, my European History teacher didn’t highlight the relevant juxtapositions between 18th century France and 21st century Venezuela. This experience — and many like it — made it clear to me that the problem with our education system is that the knowledge we learn is often disconnected from the real world. From the biology course I took freshman year to this European History class, teachers focused primarily on memorization and test preparation.

What’s more, my school wasn’t encouraging youth to take action to make the world a better place. As an avid reader of the news I saw that we clearly needed to challenge the status quo in order to meet the challenges my generation faces. I felt morally obligated to not just do my part, but to also play a role in inspiring and supporting other young people to take action.

What was your first step?

My first step was to brainstorm the mission and vision of the organization since I knew that I was going to be invested in the initiative for the long term. So I set targeted goals for the month and year. This way, after building a solid team, we could prioritize different milestones. I also had a couple meetings with various mentors who gave me the confidence I needed to start a new project and supported me along this changemaking journey.

How did you start implementing your idea?

I first brainstormed initial steps such as forming my team, finding allies, and expanding my network to increase my impact. I was grateful to have the support of my local community center, who offered us an opportunity to host workshops in partnership on youth leadership and development. I definitely faced many rejections from adults who did not believe that young people had what it took to host sessions and teach other students.

What obstacles did you face and how have you overcome them?

The most difficult part was proving to adults that youth can play an active part in civic engagement.

Hearing things like “youth can’t make a difference” and “students should only focus on their school grades” just motivated us even more to talk about the power of youth voice.

We started the workshops as small gatherings of friends at local school club meetings, but after consistent progress with our curriculum and inclusion of guest speakers, over 100 students attended each session. We finally then struck a partnership with the Hacienda Heights Community Center to host free workshops with support from their staff.

Who else supported you throughout your journey? What role did they play?

As a nonprofit, we make sure that every student’s input matters when we’re creating workshop curriculum or preparing conferences. From the beginning, I made it a priority that at least half of the initiatives launched in InnovaYouth were driven directly from student directors who serve on our team leadership. We also have an adult advisory board that oversees our programs and keeps us accountable in our work. It includes city councilmembers, university professors, high school educators, as well as industry professionals. It’s been helpful to seek advice from our supporters who believed in our idea and mission.

What advice would you give to other young people who want to make a difference but don’t know where to begin?

My best advice would be to identify key allies who support your idea and are always going to be there during times of great success and adversity. When you have people who support you in making your project a reality, you’re motivated to keep going and make the most meaningful impact.

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This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The First Steps series, founded by Ashoka Young Changemaker Manat Kaur, aims to demystify changemaking and show how anyone can start making a change. Follow Ashoka to learn more about young changemaker stories.

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