Youth Engagement - 4:54
with Raj Vinnakota
Posted Oct 03, 2016
What does it mean to be a good citizen? How can you change the direction of your community? How do you try to make change on a national basis? A discussion on efforts to engage and encourage leadership and entrepreneurship in young people. Visit the Aspen Institute on the web.
Hosted by: Robert Traynham Produced by: National Newsmakers Team


Traynham: Hello, everyone. And welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I?m Robert Traynham. Joining me today is Raj Vinnakota.?He?s the Executive Vice President of Youth and Engagement at the Aspen Institute. -Raj, welcome to the program. -

Vinnakota: Thank you.

Traynham: It is always good to see you. I want to talk about young people. And I define young people as millennials. I guess Generation Xers are no longer "young," but folks under the age of 30 who are ambitious, who are literally graduating every single month, particularly in May and December from college and high school, and are saying, "I want to change the world. I want to do something. It?s not about me. -It?s about us."

Vinnakota: Mm-hmm.

Traynham: Walk us through what you?re doing over at the Aspen Institute to engage young people in the civic process.

Vinnakota: Sure. And thank you for having me here. I joined the Aspen Institute a year ago because we wanted to have a greater role in helping to develop the future leaders. And the Aspen Institute works very well with people who are 35 and over, but doesn?t do much with younger folks. And so we started to develop a whole set of ideas, that we need to create more mechanisms for young leaders, especially from all over the country -- rural areas, smaller cities, as well as large cities, to be able to engage in thinking about, "How do I become a leader?" To get everyone to think about, "What does it mean to be a good citizen? Civil discourse. And what does civil engagement look like?" And then making sure that every young person has a voice and a voice that they can use effectively so that, if you have a position, that you use it and try to push forward for your position.

Traynham: You know, it?s interesting, Raj, because I think a lot of people -- I think the misnomer in a lot of people is that, "In order to be successful, in order to be a leader, I have to be in a C-suite or I have to be -- I have to have 80,000 Twitter followers." I don?t agree with that. I believe that a leader can be the person that is at home and is volunteering at their local church or community or perhaps someone who says, "Gosh darn it, you know, the voter-engagement rate in my neighborhood is only X, Y, and Z, but I want it to be A, B, and C." It?s literally just rolling up your sleeves -and making a difference. -

Vinnakota: Absolutely. And one of the programs that we?re developing is to do this very thing, which is identify young people who are already doing amazing things in their communities. It could be working on community engagement. It could be social-venture projects. It could be starting businesses that help the community and making sure that we raise them up, we celebrate them, and we get the others to understand what it means to be a leader in your community.

Traynham: You know, it?s -- Go ahead, Raj.

Vinnakota: I was gonna say, but it?s not only that. In addition to that, there?s a whole set of programs which is, "What does it mean to be a good citizen?" Right? Because leadership is also being a good citizen. And that means, how do you engage to try to change the direction of your community? How do you try to make change on a national basis? How do you organize to actually be effective for whatever policy positions you want to have going forward?

Traynham: In just a few short weeks, in the building right behind us, the U.S. Capitol, it?s gonna be cold, and a lot of people are going to be at the foot of that Capitol, the West Front, overlooking the National Mall, inaugurating our next president. -

Vinnakota: Mm-hmm. -

Traynham: Our next president we know is either gonna be Donald Trump or perhaps Hillary Clinton. America will decide. But also here we are in the middle of 2016. Millions of people, if they?ve not already done so through absentee ballot, they will go to the polls and choose their next president. How can young people get involved? What is the Aspen Institute doing?

Vinnakota: Well, in order to even get involved, we have to acknowledge where we are, which is that many people are having a crisis of faith in how our democracy works. And that is not about just this election. It?s just about how we function a democracy. And being able to engage with young people and say, "Okay, here?s what it means. Here?s how you engage on difficult issues -- because sometimes you?ve got to be able to have empathy for the other side, and even if you agree to disagree, try to work together towards compromise. It?s not a bad word." The other part of it that the Aspen Institute does so well with adults but wants to start doing with younger people is convening people, right? There?s a whole set of programs we want to do about -- one of the biggest issues in our society right now, which is race and race in our society, the last 200 years-plus of history. How do we engage in the conversations with young people from all different backgrounds to think about, first, empathizing with others? And then what do we do to get this society to be a better society?

Traynham: Raj Vinnakota over at the Aspen Institute. I look forward to having you back on the program to get a progress report on how you are engaging our youth in this country. Keep up the great work, and thank you very much for joining us.

Vinnakota: Thank you for having me here.

Traynham: And thank you for joining us for this edition of "Comcast Newsmakers."I?m Robert Traynham. Have a great day. We?ll see you next time. Bye-bye.

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