When I started Apathy is Boring in 2004, I was 23 years old, and did have some idea of what I was getting myself into. I had been involved in leadership positions in NGOs before, and I had rescued and essentially done most of the job of an executive director for a year, when things had fallen apart for an organization that I was on the board of. But there were many things about the day to day running of an organization and the commitment required to make an organization stand on it’s own two feet, that I knew very little about. Over the past seven years, I have learned about human resources, finances, and board development as I go.
Speaking to the students, I talk about the passion that drives me, the amazing team that I have around me, and how over the last seven years, that is what has kept me going. I also talk about being a volunteer for the first two and a half years of Apathy is Boring, even after I had other paid staff, and the leaky roof, smelly hallways, colourful neighbours in our second office, and the many times along the way where I worked a lot of hours and seemed to be hitting my head against a wall because no one in the positions of influence who could have helped Apathy is Boring were willing too.
Although this might seem depressing, and not exactly the message we want to send to young people about why they might want to be social entrepreneurs or start charitable organizations, I think this message is essential. Apathy is Boring’s mission is to use art and technology to engage youth in democracy, particularly unengaged youth. And if I have learned one thing through our work, it is the best way to engage youth is to tell them the truth.
If I tell a young person to call their Member of Parliament and set up a meeting to talk about the issue they care about, but I don’t tell them they might have to call five times before they get a response, likely the young person will give up after the first try, and never actually make it to the fifth call. But if they are armed with the knowledge of how hard it will likely be to get through, and what it will take, they are much more likely to make it to that fifth phone call and ultimately to that meeting.
I am not a believer in the idea that inspiration will save the world. What I do believe in is that inspiration can be a good first step, but that honest, straightforward information, and the truth about what it will take to make a difference is an essential second step to creating informed, realistic, and innovative young citizens.
I am part of the generation that has been told “you can do anything,” and “you can change the world,” and I truly believe that we can. But we need support and real advice to make that happen, and that is something I often see lacking in mentorship relationships in the NGO sector.
Those of us who have been through the experience of running or setting up an organization need to reach out to youth who are just starting their journey, and offer ourselves as mentors. And as mentors, we need to provide them with the real deal, the hard stuff that we don’t like to talk about – our failings, our mistakes, our challenges. We also need to offer these youth access to networks of influence, so that they can continue to find mentors that can support them in achieving their dreams, and making the kind of positive change we hope to see in the world.
 How to make money and change the world, Dreamnow.org (Myoccupation.org) 2008.
A lifelong social entrepreneur, in January 2004 Ilona co-founded Apathy is Boring, a national non-partisan charitable organization that uses art and technology to educate Canadian youth about democracy. As Apathy is Boring’s Executive Director she has been featured by the national media, worked with rock stars, and given thousands of youth the tools they need to get involved in their communities.