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In an era where problems are more difficult to solve, experts agree that in order to adapt and thrive, we can no longer rely on only a few leaders to find and implement solutions; we all need to be resilient problem solvers.

An aging population necessitates that we pay particular attention to what young people have to offer, and how we can tap into their unique abilities. We can no longer afford to let misunderstandings between generations get in our way. But at a time when society needs their talents now more than ever before, young people, 15 to 25 years old, are often left on the sidelines, unfounded stereotypes that undervalue their abilities and leave their voices unheard.

Dr. Amelia Clarke and Ilona Dougherty, both former young leaders themselves who went on to found national youth-led organizations in their early 20s, have co-created the Youth & Innovation Project. Together they make the case that in an era of increasing instablity, meaningfully engaging young people in society and the economy is no longer ‘just a nice thing to do’ or of benefit only to young people; rather it is a social and economic imperative.

While there are many programs that target young people, we have chosen to focus on shifting the attitudes, values and practices of policymakers, employers and educators. We believe that if we focus only on engaging and mobilizing young people without changing the policy and institutions that young people engage with, we will not be successful in fully tapping young peoples unique abilities.

We approach our work from a rigorous academic perspective, aiming to push past the current assumptions and accepted norms about young people to advance youth engagement theory and practice.


In Canada young people’s positive social, environmental and economic impact is valued, amplified and supported, and intergenerational collaboration is prioritized and nurtured. 


The Youth and Innovation Project aims to understand and amplify the positive social, environmental and economic impact young people, 15 to 25 years old, have on organizations, communities and systems.  


  • To conduct research on the positive social, environmental and economic impact young people, 15 to 25 years old, have on organizations, communities and systems.  

  • To use these research findings to inform youth-focused public policy, funding, programs and practices, as well as intergenerational collaboration in business, civil society and government.

Program Areas

  • Social and environmental impact research: This research measures the social and environmental impact young people have through youth service and volunteerism programs and aims to determine how best to amplify young people’s impact. 

  • Economic impact research: This research measures the economic, social and environmental impact of young perspective and current employees and aims to determine how best to amplify young people’s impact. 

  • Knowledge dissemination: Using our evidence-based insights we advise civil society, government and business on the design of policy, funding, programs and practices.  


  • We work to change systems, not just individuals.  

  • We work towards the implementation the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  

  • We work towards the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action. 

  • We engage young people in our work as equal and active contributors. This means that young people benefit from our work, including being financially compensated a living wage for their work with us. 

  • We ensure our research is rigorous and results in peer-reviewed outputs.  

  • We ensure our research is accessible to those who can put our findings into practice. 

  • We ensure a diversity of experiences and backgrounds are centred in our work. 

  • We recognize the importance of lived experience.  

  • We provide support, both financial and process-based, to enable full participation for those experiencing barriers. 

  • We recognize our own biases and challenge them.  

  • We acknowledge the ways in which power and privilege impact our work and spaces our work takes place in. We actively work to address power imbalances. 

  • We ensure our workplace prioritizes the health and well-being of our team. 

  • We are part of the University of Waterloo community and adhere to the values and policies of the university.   


In order to achieve our objectives, we use the following approach: 

  1. ‘Nothing about us without us’: From the beginning of any project and throughout a project, we engage our Youth Advisory Council as well as other young stakeholders in designing and implementing our studies to ensure that a youth voice is embedded throughout our work. 

  2. Gain a broad understanding: We conduct literature reviews or other scans that look at an issue or topic from a broad interdisciplinary perspective.  

  3. Conduct research: We use a mix of quantitative and qualitative research methods to gather data, analyse data and write academic manuscripts and research reports.  

  4. Test our findings: We test our findings again by conducting further research, as well as pressure testing our findings by sharing them with those with lived experience and academic expertise including our Youth Advisory Council, practitioners and other academics. 

  5. Share our findings broadly with decision-makers: We aim to reach 16% of decision-makers in the Canadian government, civil society and business in order to create a tipping point in the system. 

  6. Changing policy and resource flows: We work to institutionalize our findings by changing youth-focused public policy, funding, programs and practices.