Monday, May 4, 2009

We are the ones Minnesota has been waiting for

Reflecting on a statement (below) I drafted for the Citizens League Action Group on Poverty and Public Leadership in September 2007, the importance of engaging young people as our state deficit looms in excess of $4.6 billion and the need for social services continue to skyrocket, seems as relevant as ever. We're on the other side of Minnesota's Sesquicentennial now, but we still have much work before us to ensure that the next 150 years are as successful as many consider the previous.

As Minnesota approaches its 150th anniversary as a state, emphasis on the historic social innovation and civic engagement of its residents asserts the importance of these same skills and community relationships to further advance the state’s growth in coming years.

With numerous demographic shifts anticipated in coming years, young people will be increasingly tapped to take positions of leadership as baby boomers retire, as growing in-migration requires more culturally competent and multi-lingual leaders, and as more intractable problems demand new and technologically-savvy solutions. We need to expose, train, and develop civically engaged young leaders.

Today’s social issues affect multiple players across varying sectors. This increasingly requires cross-sectoral approaches, bringing together government, private, and non-profit sectors. As the driving force for change and innovation in today and tomorrow’s society, young Minnesotans will need to be able to leverage the power of public policy in their own lives and careers. Heightened awareness of the non-profit sector throughout young adulthood can highlight the importance of civic participation, even as young people enter careers in business, government, trades, or other sectors.

Equipping young leaders with the appropriate framework and tools for engaging with and problem-solving in their communities will be critical to ensuring Minnesota’s development and future success. No more fitting leadership development opportunities exist than the current obstacles faced at the state legislature, in neighborhoods, schools, reservations, businesses, or in Minnesota’s lakes, streams, and rivers. A healthy, well-educated, competitive, just, and thriving Minnesota depends on the input and participation of young people, which, in turn, must be supported and encouraged by community members and current leaders. While often the catalysts for or recipients of public policy measures, young people are not asked frequently enough for their ideas or solutions to the problems they daily face. In spite of this, young Minnesotans are beginning to develop a concern for their communities and an understanding of their individual abilities to serve and invest.

As young Minnesotans, we can no longer wait for some appointed time to reach out and serve our communities. Today’s problems will only grow increasingly complex as we age, and we have learned in our short time that change takes a long time. We can’t depend on other generations to create the Minnesota we envision for our families and children. We are the ones Minnesota has been waiting for.

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