Tackling global issues by nurturing the next generation of change agents


Tackling global issues by nurturing the next generation of change agents

Adam Pensotti
Adam Pensotti

Head of the Canon Young People Programme

It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another – what can I do to make a positive difference in the world?
It is also a question that was asked many times at the recent United Nations SDG Global Festival of Action. Critical issues that affect all our futures including gender inequality and the climate crisis appear unassailable, almost impossible to tackle on an individual basis, with many feeling that it is the role of large organisations and government bodies to create the change we all need. There’s some truth in this. Governments, NGOs and businesses all have the responsibility to enact and encourage change and to create a sustainable future. But it’s important to remember that any type of major positive action is often an accumulation of small, positive acts combining into something greater and driving through that change.
Guided by our corporate philosophy of Kyosei (living and working together for the common good), Canon is passionate about inspiring others with the courage to take action regarding the issues that affect their world. But we know that acting alone isn’t enough. That’s why at Canon we create partnerships with global organisations like the UN and local NGOs across the world to help strengthen the impact we make, enabling young people to see that there are organisations out there who support them in helping create that difference and drive real change.
The Canon Young People Programme (YPP) recently partnered with the UN’s SDG Global Festival of Action, going some way to answer the question of ‘what can I do to make a difference?’ With a diverse range of attendees, from individual young activists right up to multinational corporations, the event provided incredible insights into how different actions support each other in driving large-scale change. With this year’s event taking place online, the event, and the message behind it, was able to reach new audiences, people who otherwise might not have had the opportunity to be involved – something which we’re incredibly excited by.

The first step: make it personal 

Before any real progress can be made, the first step to combating these global issues is to encourage an understanding of the environmental and social challenges in a local context, and their relevance on a personal level. The immense scale of these issues can often seem overwhelming – and this is why it’s so important to remember that each of our own unique lived experiences brings a diverse and nuanced view of the world around us, and with it, diverse and unique solutions. Our individual power and insight should not be underestimated in tackling the biggest problems people and the planet are facing right now.
It’s for this reason that we think it’s essential to empower young people with creative education, critical thinking and the tools for communication, helping them to tell their part of the story and ultimately become those agents of change. By giving young people creative skills, a seat at the table and an understanding of the power of their voice, we enable them to play an active and, importantly, continued role in the dialogue needed to enact real change.

Screenshot of the Canon Young People Programme session
The Canon Young People Programme recently partnered with the UN’s SDG Global Festival of Action

The power of our own stories

At the SDG Global Festival of Action Canon Ambassadors Laura El-Tantawy and Tasneem Alsultan both discussed their personal stories of growth as photographers and storytellers. They talked about their own roles in shaping the story and the sometimes unexpected effect this can have on someone looking at the photograph. As Laura discussed in a panel session with Tasneem, “I have always been inspired by how an image can relay emotion and this is something that plays a significant role in my career. A lot of times people tell me about feelings they had when they looked at a photo I took that I didn’t even anticipate or think I was capturing.”

This element of interpretation is photography’s unique strength to tell stories that enact change. “Sometimes one image can make you take action,” says Tasneem. The immense power an image can hold was a view also echoed by Laura: “There is something very powerful about communicating through photography; it’s beyond an art form, and beyond just a way of expressing and telling a story.”

Telling stories that are personal and authentic to the storyteller, happening on their doorstep rather than thousands of miles away, is the connection that resonates and ultimately motivates people to make a difference. “It’s about a sense of community,” Laura says. “And the camera is a way to navigate this community.”

In the Festival of Action’s Big Picture Plenary, Tasneem highlighted the need for representation and talked about how she’s come to realise that authentic, diverse voices help to make a difference: “We have so many commonalities across the world, yet we always think of ourselves. We need to step away from fear and focus on these commonalities; after all, we all grieve and celebrate in the same way.” Speaking about the impacts of the pandemic, she pointed out that the last year has been the “first time that people were forced to hire local storytellers and photographers to represent and talk about themselves”, bringing to light fresh local talent and perspectives.

Screenshot of the Big Picture Plenary: the time is now
Big Picture Plenary: the time is now

Lifting the next generation up

“People respond to visuals”, Laura says, “which enable us to communicate in a digestible but also very powerful and influential way.” It is our human stories and images of real situations, which inspire people to get involved with advocacy campaigns and drive their own change.

That’s why we created the Canon YPP. Through our network of local NGOs, working with our Canon Ambassadors and our global partners such as the UN, we want to reach and inspire young people across the world. In a session inspired by our YPP workshop, Laura, Tasneem and I discussed how encouraging, educating and supporting young people across EMEA in telling the story of their community has inspired positive changes on issues such as wildlife conservation, gender equality and youth development.

Tasneem said: “I’ve realised that often in the countries I work in we don’t have the means to tell our stories. But by giving workshops I can show young people that the camera can be a tool that will give them much more than just imagination and playfulness. It can be a way to tell your story instead of having someone else say it for you.”

From their own neighbourhoods, we want to empower these young people to harness their creativity and as stated by Laura, “bring their own history into the photographs they take”. This unique view and power which each young person holds, plays an essential role in enabling them to become agents of change and active participants in making a difference to their futures. As Tasneem says: “We’re all in this together, and it’s time we start sharing our stories. The platform is yours.”