It's We Day, Toronto – 20,000 young people and supporters packed into the Air Canada Centre to celebrate their ability to create local and global change.
They're the generation we've been waiting for.
Almost two decades ago, Craig and a dozen of his fellow 12-year-olds started Free The Children in our parents' living room. The adults we met were surprised that a gaggle of tweens born on the border of Generations X and Y were aware of global issues, that we cared, and that we wanted to get involved. We may have been rare among our generation, but we're not any more.
That same year, 1995, it's said that the first of a new generation were born. "Gen Z" is one uncreative label for today's 4- to 18-year-olds, but they could more descriptively be called the "Me to We Generation" – a movement of informed and compassionate global citizens.
These young natives of the digital era are connected to their world, concerned about its challenges and eager to create change. They're more likely than any previous cohort to make ethical consumer choices, volunteer in their communities and choose careers with positive social impacts.
So forget the short-lived era of "slacktivists"– the Me to We Generation are active participants in building a better world. Today's teenagers are designing flashlights powered by the heat of your hand, revolutionary cancer technologies and bike-powered water filtration systems for developing countries. They're launching influential online magazines, innovative social enterprises that tackle hunger and poverty, and potent campaigns against sexism, oppression and other social ills.
Today's leaders are taking note. On the We Day stage in Vancouver last fall, one of our generation's greatest heroes made a historic statement. Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations and current chairman of the global leadership council The Elders, passed the proverbial torch to the Me to We Generation. "It's your world now. You have the courage and the strength," he told the 18,000 young change-makers, to deafening cheers. "I trust you and believe that you can make this world a better place. So go out and do it."
And they have.
Through We Act, the service learning program that provides free educational resources and monthly action campaigns in conjunction with We Day, 2.3 million students from more than 7,500 schools worldwide have raised $45-million for more than 1,000 local and global causes. They've volunteered 14.6 million hours, collected 5.6 million pounds of food and logged 8.9 million hours of silence to draw attention to the struggles of their peers in developing countries.
At We Day we celebrate this extraordinary action and get revved up for more. This year, 14 cities across Canada, the United States and Britain will collectively host 200,000 students – each of whom has earned their ticket through local and global service. They'll hear from inspiring leaders such as retired colonel and astronaut Chris Hadfield, Kweku Mandela and Katie Couric, and celebrate with favourite performers such as Hedley, Lights and Kardinal Offishall. And it's free across Canada thanks to national title sponsors Royal Bank of Canada and Telus Corp.
With their command of online tools, social media and other digital technologies, no generation is more empowered to create change than today's teens. On the We Day stage last year, actor and activist Edward Norton called them "the most powerful generation of teenagers in human history."
Generation X may have been cynical that change could happen. Generation Y may have been content to let someone else do it. But this next generation – the Me to We Generation – isn't simply being the change they wish to see in the world. They're creating it.
Prepare the torch, Toronto. It's We Day.