“The single most important thing I want to focus on is lifting up, identifying, working with, and training the next generation of leadership. Not just in the United States, but around the world.”
—President Obama to young people in India, December 1, 2017
On December 1, the Obama Foundation hosted a Town Hall with President Obama in New Delhi, bringing together nearly 300 young changemakers — authors, artists, entrepreneurs, and civic leaders — from across India to discuss active citizenship and ways to bring about positive change in their local communities.
Anshul Tewari, the founder of a platform to help young people across India speak out on issues they care about, introduced President Obama and shared his hope to see a world where “empathy, equality, and justice are the keywords that represent our generation, and where speaking up and hearing each other out is the norm.”
From there, participants in the room — and online — asked President Obama questions on a range of topics, from improving public health, to reaching consensus on complex issues, to solving racial and gender discrimination. President Obama shared several concrete and practical words of advice young people in India and viewers around the world could take back to their communities:
1. Take the time to listen.
“Take time to listen to the community you are hoping to work with – shaping your efforts and agenda around their needs and concerns will make them more responsive, and you’ll feel as if you are building off of their natural energy.”
2. Break up your efforts into achievable pieces.
“Know ahead of time that change is hard, so that you’re setting your own expectations properly, and you’re not getting discouraged...Try to break up your efforts into bite-sized pieces, manageable pieces…it doesn’t mean that you should set your sights low. It just means that you’re breaking up your actions and activities into something that feels achievable, because then when you are mobilizing supporters and partners and others who want to work with you, you’re going to create victories along a regular schedule, and that makes people feel as if what they’re doing is worthwhile.”
3. Identify allies.
“One of the things that I think is important in terms of any effort to bring about positive change is thinking about the allies that are available to you...Identify those alliances and then work together to mobilize the community.”
4. Don’t sell young people short — pay attention to new ideas and value those around you.
“Give them serious responsibilities. Care about the ideas that they have. If they don’t perform, explain why and how they can do better, and if you build that into the culture of your organizations, then people will stay with you and will feel invested in it because they’ll see themselves growing in the process.”
5. Create joy within your work.
“Take time to have some fun within your work...you have to create space, not just in your own life but also in the organization, where sometimes you say, well, let’s just do something fun. Let’s do something that creates joy. And that can be anything from a dance to going to the movies to surfing.”
6. There are many different ways you can make a difference.
“There are just so many different ways that you can make a difference. And the key is for you to find what is right for you, and what feels as if not only are you having the most impact, but it is also giving you a sense of strength and satisfaction.”
We look forward to continuing the conversation with young leaders around the world. As we develop future programming, we want to know what issues you’re most interested in, as well as the organizations that are doing good work in your community right now. We hope you’ll join us.