Peace First was founded by teenagers in 1992 at Harvard University on a simple idea: if we want to solve the world’s biggest problems, we must support young people with the skills and commitments necessary to solve the problems by connecting with others with compassion, championing ideals and others with courage, and creating collaborative change.
Since then, Peace First has grown into a global NGO that supports youth-led projects and connects thousands of young social change leaders from over 164 countries.
Through its digital platform – the world’s largest incubator for youth-led social change initiatives – Peace First empowers young people aged 13-30 with the skills and resources to turn their ideas into action. We currently host over 27,000 young users on our digital platform and support over 13,000 youth-led projects.
From Lagos to Rabat, Kathmandu to Birmingham and Boston to Oaxaca, the demand for digital tools, community support, funding and mentorship among young people is stronger than ever. This is where Peace First comes in.
I sat down with Dr. Isaac Cudjoe, Co-CEO, Storytelling and Fundrasing and Xochilt Hernandez Leiva, Co-CEO of Program and Technology at Peace First, to talk about what the future should be – and the role that brands can play in this space to collaborate with them.
Both Dr. Isaac Cudjoe and Xochilt Hernandez Leiva come from marginalized communities. They have seen how resilient people can be, especially when trying to help their communities. They have seen firsthand what happens when young people take an active role in their communities, and they want to honor that in their work at Peace First.
“Young people are the most powerful and untapped resource for creating systemic change and writing new stories of what is possible. We want this belief to become contagious in all sectors. Our vision for the future values and amplifies different ways of learning, leading and being. We are working towards a future where we can all proudly disrupt the norms that leave people behind,” explained Dr Cudjoe.
“We want a future where young people lead real partnerships across global divisions, with access to resources, networks and support to turn their ideas into scalable and sustainable solutions for our current and future global challenges,” Leiva added. .
Their belief is that brands build communities just as much as they engage with communities and should use that community building power for good. Beyond what they sell, they must consider what they build and be responsible for the lives they impact. Young people affect how everyone consumes and interacts with brands, and therefore brands should prioritize investing in young people holistically.
Working with organizations like Peace First allows brands to join the ongoing work that is both accountable and already endorsed by young people. Having them on board enhances its work and the impact it can have globally. Brand support for organizations such as Peace First may include, but is not limited to, financial support. Thought leadership is welcome, and the most significant impact comes from well-rounded collaboration.
We talked about the brand partnerships Peace First has in place, how the cooperation is going and which brands they would like to partner with.
“We have ongoing partnerships with various institutions, organizations and brands. One of our brand partnerships is with TOMS and KROST, where a percentage of their WE’RE ALL FRIENDS HERE™ line directly supports Peace First,” said Dr Cudjoe.
These partnerships affirmed their belief that brands have the power to do good, especially when they work with mission-driven organizations and have a reputation for meeting the needs of the communities they support.
He said: “We would love to continue to honor our belief that brands can have a substantial social impact in communities around the world. We want to work with brands that care deeply about where our world is headed, like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s and Everlane. We also want to work with companies like Benchling, Mozilla, Nike and the NBA to center change in their work and encourage young people to see themselves as part of today’s solutions.
With over 30,000 young people registered on its digital platform, Peace First is currently investing in the redesign and launch of a new version that will allow it to democratize access to the tools of change and better connect its users. Drawing on three decades of experience and feedback from the tens of thousands of young people Peace First has worked with, the new platform will introduce a range of features and functionality to streamline, speed up and scale its work.
Peace First is actively seeking partners and donors who are passionate about unleashing the power of technology to accelerate change to join it. It also invites other organizations to consider how they can participate in the knowledge sharing that will take place on its new platform.
“We invite brands to join us in our efforts to reinvent and redefine what it means to be a ‘giver’ through our Youth Investment Fund. We are democratizing fundraising and we know brands can help us do that,” Leiva explained.
I asked her about some of the young cultural icons Peace First has worked with and would like to partner with. “We talk a lot about how young people built peace first and how our organization has been strengthened by the contributions of people like Rashida Jones, America Ferrera and so many others. It is our responsibility to continue this tradition by inviting cultural icons whose values are centered in everything they do. We want to work with people whose activism is not separate from their public persona and is at the core of who they are.
“We admire and want to work with young cultural icons and activists like Yara Shahidi, Naomi Osaka, Winter BreeAnne, Joshua Gabriel Oluwaseyi, Austin Serio and BTS. But our work is cross-generational, so we also seek to work with long-time visionaries and allies like Amal Clooney, Pharrell Williams, Craig Newmark and Viola Davis,” she added.
Finally, we discussed the advice they have for brands that are serious about engaging with young people. According to them, young people are acutely aware of the implications of their consumption choices and of the global social and cultural dynamics that affect them and their communities. Brands need to be consistent in their values and clear in their message. Young people no longer separate their values from work – and this also extends to their spending. The rise and success of values-driven brands like TOMS and Patagonia show that brands can do good while making a profit. Additionally, Peace First would like to invite brands to see young people through a global lens. Most Gen Zs are connected across international borders through social media and technology. It is the power and the community that he establishes with his work.
“We invite brands to join us in undertaking this work by transforming their businesses to put their values first and supporting nonprofit organizations like ours to improve lives,” Dr. Cudjoe concluded.