Speaking Up: Young People Find Their Voice at TEDxYouth

By Ruby Feneley
on 5 April 2019

Young people brought big ideas to TEDxYouth Sydney 2019. Speakers were selected on the basis of their original and disruptive contributions and innovations at home and abroad. Here we round up just some of our favourite young innovators making waves.

Jean Hinchliffe, 15, Climate Change Activist

Jean Hinchliffe at the TedXYouth Sydney Event
Girl vs World: Jean Hinchliffe talks Climate Change.

Jean Hinchliffe spoke passionately about the about impact of climate change on Generation Z, and the way these digital natives are using social media to get their voices heard. Hinchliffe said “the younger a person is the more they will be impacted by climate change and the less of a voice they have today.”

She has been integral to organising #schoolstrikeforclimatechange in which high school students boycotted their studies to protest climate complacency. In particular, she denounced “the mass inaction of our politicians” on issues pertaining to climate. But she said she had been heartened by the global response of young people to the issue.

The first School Strike for Climate numbered 15,000 students in Australia. The second was 1.5 million worldwide across 100 countries. Hinchliffe noted that Gen Z were the first generation to grow up with the internet and social media. This means they have more access to climate information from an early age than generations before them. They are also perfectly positioned to organise global movements – she noted that “Most planning teams have never had physical meetings”. Instead they are at home generating viral movements online that are making waves in the real world.

James J Robinson, 23, Photographer

James J Robinson at the TedXYouth Event
Speaking From Experience: James J Robinson on the importance of representation

At a young age, James J Robinson found commercial success as a photographer. His art has been published in The New York Times and Vogue Australia. Furthermore, he has worked with some of the biggest names in business – think Kylie Jenner and Rihanna.

Robinson said his favourite models, however, are those closest to him. His grandmother, his queer community and the every day people in his life like his Brooklyn hairdresser.

Robinson spoke eloquently about the pain of growing up queer and Philippino in Australia. He recounted being “robbed” of a coming out experience when he was asked out by another boy at age 14 over MSN, only to arrive at school to find out it had been a cruel prank.

He said these experiences, along with the representation of queer people on film, filled him with dread. From comedies like Mean Girls and Clueless, he learnt that being a gay man meant “being the comedic appendix to a white girls struggle”.

He said: “I wasn’t scared to be gay because it made me different, I was scared to be gay because it condemned me to a life of humiliation and loneliness.”

Now Robinson uses his platform and his art, that he describes as “poetic realism”, to elevate queer and ethnically diverse bodies and and celebrate his friends  and family. He said that representation is about more than who is front of the camera, it is also about who is behind it – showing a queer person or using diverse casting is meaningless if it is tokenistic.

James Robinson uses his own experiences to empathise with his subjects and show them for who they really are – fun, sexy and unashamedly cool. Oh, and he took that photo of his Phillipino grandmother with a chainsaw because he wanted to show his high school bullies that he had access to one!

Angelina Arora, 16, Scientist and Year 12 Student

Angelina Arora at the TedXYouth Event
Angelina Arora breaks down the science behind her bio-degradable plastic.

Angelina Arora’s journey to find a solution to single-use plastics has been a long one. This might be surprising, as she’s only 16 but the issue has been troubling Arora since she was 11.

After a failed experiment with Corn Starch Arora turned to materials she saw at her local fish and chip shop and found success. She noticed that crustacean shells like prawn and lobster closely resembled plastic, and indeed after much experimentation she found they can be made to function the same way.

The benefits of crustacean plastics?

They degrade 1.5 million times faster than conventional plastics and actually release nitrogen into the soil, acting as a natural fertilizer. She is continuing her research on crustacean plastic and its applications in medicine, from wound dressing to dissolvable stitches. At the same time she has discovered a strain of algae that will provide a potential solution to oil spill clean ups. Her research has earn’t her multiple awards and University Scholarships. Not to rest on her laurels, Arora has also earn’t accolades for her charity work and commitment to the community – she was acknowledged for her leadership in social justice by Dame Marie Basheer, was named Young Citizen of the Year for 2019 and has been nominated for Young Australian of the Year. All this before she has even completed her schooling.

Angelina Arora is certainly one to watch and we cant wait to see what the future will bring for her.

TEDxYouth Takeaway:

These speakers were just a handful of young high achievers with big ideas who presented at TEDxYouth. While speakers ranged from computer engineers, to video game designers to performance artists and activists for the differently abled there was a consistent message across all talks. This message was a strong belief that Generation Z and millennials can and will effect change in the future by challenging the status quo and thinking forward. The passion, grit and sheer hard work on display at TEDxYouth was a powerful refutation to older generations who see their juniors as disaffected and selfie obsessed.

We cannot wait to see how these future leaders change the world.

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