Innovation and Youth: Tapping Our Young Resources

Jul 11, 2012, 4:21 PM, Posted by Christine Nieves

Christine Nieves / RWJF Christine Nieves

In youth, everything is possible. Knowledge is fresh and ideas come freely. There are few inhibitions, restrictions, and obligations. And oftentimes, working from 11 a.m. to 4 a.m. is an unquestionable norm. Why? Because we believe, above all else, that our product, our idea, or our approach will be revolutionary and beyond anything out there.

The notion of working around the clock to see an idea come to life is natural, and most importantly, necessary. For our generation of young entrepreneurs and visionaries, there is often little to lose…outside of time. Urgency leads the charge. And although we may not always bring expertise to the table, what we bring is “no fear” for failure. Because we understand that when we fail, we learn. And learning is at the core of innovation.

As renowned Buddhist Shunryu Suzuki once said, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” It’s not a coincidence that youth spurs activism. When I see a problem, I think about how I can make a dent in the system – I dream about a way to make a change for a better future. And so do my peers, working non-stop hours at startups or delaying high-paying careers for meager profits in a job that makes a difference. We do this because we believe change is possible, and we believe our ideas are capable of making the lives of others better in some meaningful way.

Obstacles to innovation may seem too many to count. Yet in youth, we are not jaded by “the way things are” or “the way things have always been.” Instead, we are invigorated by the potential for a future that might be, and we wake up every morning saying “bring it on!”

This is why I'm excited to work for a place marking its 40th year by honoring young leaders with big ideas through Young Leader Awards: Recognizing Leadership for a Healthier America. RWJF will honor up to 10 leaders, 40 and under, who offer great promise for leading the way to improved health and health care for all Americans. Each winner will receive an individual award of $40,000.

Through a Call for Nominations process ending this week, the Young Leaders Awards will recognize individuals who have demonstrated the characteristics necessary to provide leadership for improving health and health care, including:

  • The ability to bring others together to achieve results greater than what a single person could bring about;
  • The capacity to apply learning beyond the boundaries of a single discipline;
  • A history of developing great ideas into products, services, or policies that have made a difference in health and health care; and
  • Demonstrable evidence of impact on health and health care that extends beyond an initial group of people to reach additional populations, likely to be sustainable over the decades ahead.

RWJF is constantly on the lookout for leaders and leadership in unexpected places; for the ability to convene stakeholders and effect change that is larger than any individual; and to measurably track change in our overall health care system. Now, we are celebrating those young individuals who embody all of these characteristics with an eye to the future, and all it might bring.

So, bring it on – send in those nominations! Are you inspired by a young leader under 40 who is meeting an important need through innovation? Let us know!

Learn more about the type of young leaders we are looking for and submit your nominations here before July 16.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.