Voices and Imaginations of Global Youth Front and Center

The Youth in a Changing World Project

Project Overview

Rapid change and uncertainty have become an increasing feature of global realities. What does the future look like for the world’s young people who will inherit the burdens of global climate change, political polarizations, and wide-spread economic and health disparity as well as the promises and dilemmas of digital technologies and global interconnectedness? Launched in 2017 in collaboration with the Columbia Global Centers, the “Youth in a Changing World” (YCW) project, is a series of global workshops, where youth discuss among themselves how their future aspirations are affecting and being affected by the rapidly changing world.

There are many global surveys on youth, but scant qualitative and trans-border research that incorporates young people as both researchers and subjects. The YCW project is an innovative study with three primary goals:

To provide a platform for youth to shape research on themselves and in collaboration with other young people from all walks of life;


To learn how youth around the world envision their present lives, futures, and prospects for their communities and the world at this time of global change;

To produce proposals for both local and global approaches to the challenges confronting youth and the world they will inherit.

Our Unique Methodology

Following the CGT dictum of learning from the world, the YCW project uses a unique approach that combines trans-border collaboration and dialogue. The project works with Columbia’s nine Global Centers, local universities, and youth organizations to plan and implement multimodal workshops in the languages and settings youth. More importantly, project researchers train youth leaders to facilitate group discussions and lead a collective drawing with their peers. In this way, the project builds local capacity by empowering youth to shape and carry out research for themselves and their communities.

Peer-Discussions: The YCW workshops includes focus group discussions, where local youth facilitators moderation a conversation with their peers around three thematic open-ended questions. These non-hierarchical conversations allow young people to share their thoughts and feelings in a safe and comfortable environment.

Collective Drawing: Each peer-led focus group ends with a collective drawing exercise, in which the young people create an image around their conversation. Collective drawings offer participants freedom to “play” with artistic expression to shape and convey their own narratives and understandings. Collective drawings also encourage the youth to negotiate visual representations with their peers, given them an opportunity to think more critically around the discussion theme in the process of drawing.

Project Scope: So far, we have conducted workshops in the Northeastern United States, Brazil, Tunisia, Jordan, Turkey, Kenya, India, and Lebanon. And more are planned in France and the Midwestern, Western, and Southern United States. By the end of the project collection phase, we will have held over twenty-five workshops with more than 500 youth in five world regions (the Americas, Middle East, North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, and Europe), trained over 100 youth facilitators, conducted 100 individual focus groups, and gathered 100 collective drawings.

What We’re Learning

It is evident from the conversations we held so far that young people everywhere acutely feel the need for a platform to express themselves and have themselves heard. And, as digital and global natives, they are able to think simultaneously in personal, local, and global terms.

Although at its preliminary stages of interpretation, workshops are revealing several shared issues: 

Frustrations with established institutions that do not reflect the demands of a changing world;

Resentment that due to their age, youth have to wait to lead political and civic processes;

A realization that existing pathways to adulthood may not result in desired futures;

A personal sense of privilege or disadvantage as compared to young people elsewhere;

A growing understanding of both the mobilizing and divisive effects of digital technologies coupled with growing concern with privacy and identity;

A mixed sense of hope and despair about the future of the world and local communities.