Photo by Alex Workman

As our family has traveled the US interviewing young changemakers for our One Year Road Trip: Generation of Generosity project we’ve been gathering data for a child development study conducted by psychologists back in the Los Angeles area. The study hopes to discover what factors shape kids to be changemakers and then propose ways to create environments fertile for growing more changemakers.

So far we’ve interviewed more than 40 young changemakers who are making our world better and, though the formal study is still underway, our family has observed a few consistent themes that give some great insight into what shapes and defines a changemaker.

For some it was personal experiences, like being a victim of bullying or abuse, while others saw something apart from themselves, like a natural disaster. But everyone we’ve met has had a defining moment that grabbed their heart and called them to action. For those who were direct victims, they took their experience and used them as fuel to stop others from being victimized. For those on the outside they saw an injustice and knew that they could and must do something about it, so they did.

That may seem like an obvious conclusion, but it’s actually much more nuanced. Many of the changemakers had a parent or caregiver who coached or guided them through the maze of social action campaigns and 501(c)3 development, but many more had little to no help along the way. A few parents even today know very little about what their child is doing in spite of the awards and recognition. The key to growing a young change-maker doesn’t seem to be holding their hand as much as getting out of their way. Which leads to #3.

They are self-motivated and have not given up, many in spite of seemingly insurmountable setbacks. We’ve met 15 year-olds who completed their 501(c)3 paperwork themselves and were even denied multiple times before being granted non-profit status. We met a brother and sister who were told by the Pentagon that they couldn’t continue their project in the way they first planned. We’ve met dozens who launched their projects with no money, no prior experience and no set plan. They simply saw a need and determined that they could do something about it.

Some call it compassion. Others empathy. Others love. Whatever the inner motivation, these young changemakers care about the people they are helping in personal ways. They don’t simply care about world hunger, they care about individual people who are hungry. They don’t simply care about bullying, they care about specific boys and girls who are bullies or are bullied. They put a face and a name to issues, and as a result they grow in their empathy, dedication and determination to make positive change.

We’re just over halfway through our One Year Road Trip, but this much is clear: If we want our family to be more like the kids we’re meeting on the road then we need to be the kind of parents who don’t stand in the way of potential greatness.

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At Conscious, we are inspired by remarkable people and organizations and so we set out to tell stories that highlight human interest stories, global initiatives, innovation, community development, and social impact. You can read more stories like this when you subscribe.

Editorial Collaborator: Read Matt Webb’s interview here to learn about his family fulfilling a dream to travel the US and film a documentary about a Generation of Generosity through One Year Road Trip. Also, be sure to check out their monthly column here on consciousmagazine.co featuring their Generation of Generosity stories.