Blog

Ilona Dougherty

June 25, 2019 by Speakers' Spotlight

Three Ways to Better Engage Youth and Encourage Innovation in Your Organization

An award-winning social innovator, Ilona Dougherty helps organizations understand how to tap into the unique abilities of young people, and leverage their strengths to build out innovation in their organizations.

Ilona is currently the co-creator and managing director of University of Waterloo’s Youth and Innovation Project, where she works to ensure young people are meaningfully engaged in finding and implementing solutions to social, environmental, and economic problems and valued for the contributions they make.

Youth, she explains in a recent opinion piece for Future of Good, are inherently wired for innovation. Failing to engage them in your organization is a misstep, she writes, that not only undervalues them but fails to take advantage of their potential to being innovative solutions to the table.

“Meaningful youth engagement is not just about supporting exceptional young leaders — it is about recognizing the exceptional potential of every young person.”

She outlined three ways organizations can better engage their youthful employees and see results.

Value young people’s unique ability to innovate

Neuroscience and developmental psychology tell us that from 15 to 25, young people’s brains are wired for innovation. During this time of life, young people do not need to be trained to be innovators — they just need to be supported in tapping into their natural abilities.

All social mission organizations need to be flexible and agile to adapt to the rapid pace of change, and young people can offer just the kind of innovative perspectives that an organization needs to adapt. This summer, remember that your young employees are the “innovation engine” of your organization, so get their views, ask for feedback, and involve them in projects that could use a fresh perspective regularly.

Trust young people

Research tells us that young people are more likely to stay engaged with organizations that ensure the work they do meets real needs and where they are given the opportunity to take meaningful action. This summer, don’t give young people make-work projects or tasks that no one else in the organization wants to do.

Instead, leverage your organization’s “innovation engine” by offering young people the opportunity to work on projects where they can be involved from beginning to end and where they have the opportunity to meaningfully connect with your organization’s mission. Trust that young people will step up when given the opportunity to tackle real challenges.

Connect these young innovators with decision-makers

When we connect young people and their bold ideas with decision-makers that have the power to scale and implement these ideas, social and environmental impact is more likely to result. This summer, create opportunities for young employees to amplify their innovative ideas by sharing them with decision-makers at all levels of your organization, and support decision-makers in staying open to the new ideas that young people have to offer.

It is easy to look at young leaders like Thunberg or González from afar and admire the impact they have had. What isn’t as simple is recognizing the exceptional abilities of all young people and meaningfully supporting each young person as they walk through the front door of your organization throughout the year. Young people’s new ideas will often make us feel uncomfortable and push us out of our comfort zone. But this summer, remember that that feeling is precisely how you’ll know that the kind of innovative thinking needed to solve complex problems is taking place.

Drawing on neuroscience and developmental psychology, Ilona Dougherty shows organizations the unique abilities that young people hold, how to leverage their strengths to succeed in an innovation economy, and why intergenerational collaboration is essential in an era of rapid change.

Interested in learning more about Ilona and what she can bring to your next event? Email us at info@speakers.ca.