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For Students: Want To Make A Difference But Don’t Know Where To Start?

If you are reading this article, there is a good chance you are young and have a heart for change. The university campus is an incubator for change. Students are offered a stimulating environment where conversations on important issues take place organically, and student-led movements can take form naturally. 

We have covered some inspiring student-led initiatives before. Owing to their endless curiosity and passion, students have often been dubbed change agents as they connect knowledge, action, and purpose in the pursuit of a worthy cause. If you desire to make a difference but are not sure where to start, read on as we share six things students can do to spark change.

#1: Define A Cause

There are a myriad of issues worth championing – poverty, access to education, plastic pollution, gender inequality, refugee rights, just to name a few. The constant stream of news feeds can easily overwhelm our minds and emotions. Thus it is important for students to know what they are passionate about.

The Japanese concept of Ikigai[1] can be a useful guide for students to discover their purpose. Ikigai means the purpose for living, and poses four fundamental questions to reflect on:

  1. What does the community around you need?
  2. What do you love doing?
  3. What are you good at doing?
  4. What are the things you can get rewarded for?

The intersection of these questions could give you a hint of the cause closest to your heart. For example, a science student who is well-versed in environmental issues can leverage her knowledge to create a project.

Source: Courtesy of Celine Ng

I was studying conservation biology and thought of starting a project about environmental SDGs. I noticed the plastic pollution issue in the islands of Sabah, which gave me the thought of starting the project that brings in the 3 environmental SDGs into this 6 weeks program. – Celine Ng, former project director of Nature Warrior.

A worthy cause, when pursued with care, can inspire more changemakers.

The project gave them (volunteers) better awareness of environmental issues and some inspired them to start their own initiative. It actually motivates me at the same time, to connect with more like-minded youths and help mobilise more youth to take part in grassroots actions for the environment. – Celine Ng, currently pursuing masters in zoonotic diseases at the University of Malaysia Sabah.

#2: Research to Learn

Source: Pexels

Social issues are often multifaceted and intertwined with one another. Access to education, for example, can be related to poverty, statelessness, or gender-based inequality. Change can happen at all levels, not only grassroots but also institutions. However, before you change the world it is important for you to understand the world. 

A wealth of information is available at your fingertip. Just Google a keyword and you will be presented with pages of results. The challenge is often deciding which source is credible and reliable. A rule of thumb is to look for information on credible news platforms and academic journals. Also, check out Wiki Impact’s article bank filled with stories and data on social issues in Malaysia. 

The university campus is an ivory tower of knowledge. A trip to the library, a consultation with a professor, or a casual conversation with like-minded peers can broaden your perspective and understanding of a given issue.

#3: Make Personal Changes

Change does not have to be big, it can start small too. Lead by example by upholding values and behaviour that serve the cause you are championing. For example, the best way to vouch for a better and cleaner environment is to adopt sustainable lifestyle habits right at home, in your day-to-day living.  

Habits like bringing your own bottle, refusing plastics, and clearing your plate are practical contributions to reducing your environmental footprint. Individual change can have a ripple effect across a community.

In the house, we started to control the food we buy and cook, we started composting, and using fewer plastics in the house. My father even made some changes in his business where he stopped providing plastic bags to customers. My friends or relatives are supporting my composting initiatives at home by collecting food waste for me. – Jia Yie, a former student from UPM.

Source: Courtesy of Jia Yie

Every action is an instance of education and conversation where the people around you get to know more about the issue.

I think the realisation that I have is to share my knowledge consistently and host practical experiences for others, so they are more ready to accept the changes in life. – Jia Yie, environmental practitioner.

#4: Speak Up

When you find that an issue is under-reported and deserves much more attention, be the one to speak up about it. You might be surprised to find that there are more people who care but they are just waiting for a voice to rally behind.

Raising awareness sometimes means making your voice heard by the wider public or even bodies of authority. Penning a letter to city councils, legislator’s office or even ministers are ways to express your concerns.

There was a lot of pent-up anger for someone closely observing the affairs of this country, and that was the time of national lockdown. Being locked down at home, naturally, my anger found a way out in my writing. Having written it I thought it a waste to not send it somewhere with a bigger audience. – Jia Shen, a law student from University Malaysia who wrote an open letter about the state of government in handling the pandemic.

Source: Malaysiakini and courtesy of Jia Shen

Speaking out attracts crowds. Change is built from each conversation where awareness permeates.

I do find myself surrounded by more people of similar interests and inclinations… I become informed of their views of the world. Thus, for all intents and purposes, I feel like I am the one being influenced by people around me, as a result of me speaking out. – Jia Shen.

#5: Join a Movement

Put your passion into action. Devoting your time, energy, and heart to projects and campaigns are the most direct way to initiate change. Volunteering provides students with an opportunity to learn from experienced activists. Mentoring, be it formal or informal, helps students to connect with the issue more effectively.

Source: Courtesy of Bryan George

Through the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project, I was able to directly contribute toward the rehabilitation of the gibbons and see how my efforts benefited the animals I was caring for, especially since we do behavioural data collection regularly, allowing us to see the improvements of the animals. – Bryan George, a student volunteer from Sunway University who is passionate about wildlife conservation.

Volunteering is not limited to physical space. As we are adapting to the work-from-home lifestyle, volunteering likewise can be done virtually. Bulan Sisters realised a lack of advocacy for period poverty among youths. They took to social media to raise awareness on this sensitive issue.

Source: Bulan Sisters

We founded this campaign, hoping to close the opportunity gap due to the lack of menstrual products for all menstruating populations in Malaysia and increase the visibility of a holistic menstrual education across Malaysia. – Bulan Sisters.

An internship is another way to acquire skills while making changes, especially for students on semester break or gap year. Check out Wiki Impact for volunteering and internship opportunities.

#6: Fundraise

A campaign for change requires monetary support. By financially supporting a cause you directly enable the organisation of choice to go the long haul and channel money to the beneficiaries. While it is easy to do, we encourage donors to do their homework before donating. 

Apart from charities and foundations, there are also project-based fundraisers managed by organizations and student clubs. Take time to understand their initiatives and target beneficiaries. Look for financial reports or impact reports to get an idea of how your donation will be appropriated. Check out some other tips on how to be an empowered giver.

Source: UNHCR

Alternatively, you can be the fundraiser yourself. Setting up a fundraising account on any of these platforms NGO Hub, Sedunia, Simply Giving and start raising funds. The key to a successful fundraiser is your accountability, the extent to which you understand the issue and your ability to communicate and convince people to come alongside you. 

The outreach of the fundraiser depends on your creativity. Leverage your unique talents for a worthy cause, be it swimming to fundraise for learning loss[2], guitar workshops to feed the homeless[3], or running marathons for marginalised children[4]. The fundraising goal does not have to be big as every single cent counts.

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Gaines, J. (2021). The Philosophy of Ikigai: 3 Examples About Finding Purpose. Positive Psychology. Link.
  2. Wiki Impact. Harish Dhakshinamoorthy: Splashing Waves In Support Of Rakan Tutor. Link.
  3. Wiki Impact. Malaysian Student Host Guitar Workshops, Raises RM5,000 For KL’s Homeless. Instagram. Link.
  4. Wiki Impact. Running The Extra Mile For A Worthy Cause: Miles For Miracles. Link.

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