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Helping young entrepreneurs – Akasha Young Pioneers Programme

July 23, 2014

This is a guest blog by Mark Spokes of Ākāśa Innovation 

I have three words to share with one person. They might not be what you are expecting. However, they carry a message that speaks to us all. These words remind me that hope springs eternal with each new generation of young people. They reassure me of the possibilities of creating a beautiful world full of flourishing life if we just give young people every opportunity to thrive. I believe that you will want to share these three words too.

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Samia Khoury inspired me and called me to action with these words. She is one of the many Palestinians I have met over recent weeks who never give up hope, even in the most hopeless of situations. In her book, “Reflections from Palestine: A Journey of Hope – a Memoir,” Samia describes her life’s work to bring justice for her people. Now at the age of 80, she expresses some concern for the future as both a mother and a grandmother, but she continues to find hope in young people joining the cause.

Young people give hope to some of our most influential elders. The UN Ambassador for Peace and the famous primatologist, Dame Jane Goodall – another 80-year-old – recently voiced her fears about the global environment, but said that young people are giving her hope: “It almost seems that young people are different. They are rising to the challenges that lie ahead of them because of our mistakes.” In her book, “Reason for Hope: A Spiritual Journey,” she praised the “powerful force unleashed when young people resolve to make a change.”

Our best hope for the future lies with the next generation of young people. But we must share with them the wisdom of our elders. If we learn best from experience, then young people should hear from those who have more direct experience of the consequences of their actions over decades. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Economics Laureate and another 80-year old, recounts an old Bengali saying: “Knowledge is a very special commodity: the more you give away, the more you have left.” Many of our elders recognise that education not only prepares the leaders of tomorrow for the global crises they are inheriting, but also cultivates their own hopes that peace in the world is possible.

Education becomes more important with an awareness of the cycles of life and death. “We are like butterflies who flutter for a day and think it is forever,” wrote the cosmologist Carl Sagan, who would have been 80 this year. Some of our elders, who are reflecting on their twilight years, have perhaps come to understand the significance of another of Sagan’s pearls of wisdom: “To live in the hearts we leave behind is to live forever.” This knowledge of the meaning of the human experience must now inform how we help each new generation of young people learn to see the world anew. In his classic book, “The Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space,” Sagan wrote: “The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”


I am lucky to be working with Greta Rossi, the founder of Ākāśa Innovation. She has used her experience as a youth leader in human rights to now work in empowering other young people to follow their dreams of shaping a better future. Her commitment is the soul of the new Ākāśa Young Pioneers Programme, which is designed to prepare, inspire and empower young people to become sustainability leaders and help them make a brighter world. The twelve-week course that begins this autumn will be an exciting and transformational experience for twelve promising young people unable to afford or access expensive university courses and unpaid internships. Passionate and talented young people like Olivia and Michela have already joined Greta to work throughout the Ākāśa (50) Days of Summer towards raising funds to provide scholarships for each of our Young Pioneers.


I also feel fortunate to be working alongside Dr. Mike Edwards. He is one of the most talented educators that I have come across and will be guiding the Young Pioneers in developing the mindsets and skillsets they need to change the way we do business. Mike is also an adviser on climate change strategy to The Elders, a group of global leaders established by Nelson Mandela, who are passing on their knowledge to prepare the “youngers” to become the leaders we need now and in the future. Among these Elders, the former US President, Nobel Peace Laureate and another 80-year-old, Jimmy Carter, has been prominent in encouraging young people to become active ahead of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference in Paris: “Young people will inherit our planet, our successes and our failures. As Elders, we urge them not to underestimate their power, influence and responsibility to address the biggest challenge of our time.”


To find the wisdom to pass on to coming generations, we probably need look no further than our most enlightened 80-year-old – the Dalai Lama. In the recent documentary film, “Road to Peace”, the Dalai Lama spoke directly to young people: “Now you are the real human generation who will make a new shape of this planet.” His wish is for the next generation of leaders to prepare themselves with an education that builds the skills and expertise needed for life in this century, combined with the sources of inner strength that come from the likes of determination, truthfulness, honesty, warm-heartedness, and compassion. The Ākāśa Young Pioneers Programme is one answer to that wish. Twelve young people build skillsets and mindsets throughout the twelve-week course. This prepares them for a unique work placement that brings them together as an innovation team working to help make another not-for-profit organisation flourish.


The Ākāśa Young Pioneers Programme is being launched to realise our hopes of young people; it is led by young people with hope for a better world; and it provides a space for young people to experience hope and realise their potential to inspire in others a hope for the future. The wisdom and experience of our elders is drawn upon to prepare, inspire and empower our Young Pioneers. In doing so, the sweeping grand narratives that currently dominate the field of sustainability are replaced with an enduring soul found in the meaningful connections we find in each other, within ourselves and with the planet.


The talented and passionate young people that I have met through Ākāśa Innovation fill me with hope. I now realise how important it is to return this hope and promise back to our elders within the simple three words that bring Samia such joy. And that is why I know the importance of the three words that fill Samia with hope. “As long as there is life there is hope,” she declared. “I continue to have hope as long as there are [active young people] in this world – and as long as there are children who come and say, ‘Good morning Grandma,’ there is reason to hope.” At the end of the first week of the Ākāśa Young Pioneers Programme in autumn, I will be travelling home for my Nanna’s 80th birthday. I will wake up on Sunday and go downstairs, where she will no doubt be ready with breakfast and say, “Good morning Nanna.” I will thank her for all of the love she has given her four grandchildren and promise to pass this on so that we can hope for a better world for coming generations. It will be Grandparents Day in the UK, so why not plan a visit, a phone call, or a brief moment to remember someone and share hope together. Hope dies last if we recall a Kenyan proverb: “The world was not given to you by your parents; it was lent to you by your children.”


Mark Spokes

Chief Flourishing Officer


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