March 21, 2018 | By Jennifer Sirangelo

Guest Commentary - 4-H is Growing True Leaders

Editor's Note: As part of our new blog series, The Next Generation, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs is inviting a diverse group of experts to explore topics related to youth employement and agriculture in advance of the 2018 Global Food Security Symposium.  Join the discussion using #GlobalAg, and tune in to the symposium live stream on March 21 and 22.

By Jennifer Sirangelo, President & CEO, National 4‑H Council

America is facing a leadership crisis. Many young people today aren’t being given the opportunity to learn the tenacity, strategic-thinking, and people skills that they’ll need to lead – now and in the future.

For me, leadership started at home as a big sister. As the oldest of four kids, I took on a lot of responsibility early on in my life. My dad worked two jobs and my mom was my first mentor, and she saw the unique potential in me and each of my siblings and helped us cultivate it. Caring adults like my mom and others stepped up and gave me the opportunities I needed to grow essential life skills.

But recent research conducted by 4‑H suggests that today’s youth aren’t getting the leadership opportunities they want and need. In the 2016 4‑H National Youth Survey on Leadership, two-thirds of respondents said they don’t have the tangible skills they needed to lead. Half of high school students said they don’t feel prepared to lead in college or a future career.

That’s a discouraging statistic. But even more discouraging is that, as adults, we’re not stepping up to help young people get the leadership opportunities they need. When our survey asked youth why they hadn’t taken opportunities to learn leadership skills, the number one reason they gave was that no one had asked them.

4‑H decided to change that. In spring of 2016, we launched our Grow True Leaders Campaign to highlight the experiences offered to young people that grow leadership skills. Through self-chosen projects, kids are paired with mentors and given opportunities to lead. These projects bring out their potential, their passions, and their drive to help others, as we empower them to become true leaders.

In 4‑H, we believe that every child has the potential to be a leader, and in order to fulfill that potential they need caring adult mentors, chances to develop practical skills, and opportunities to take on leadership roles. As America’s largest youth development organization, we know this approach works and our results are second to none.

4-H Grows True Leaders 

4-H Grows Here - PSA - 60 sec


If we’re going to fill the coming leadership void, adults must play a larger role in encouraging kids and offering them the hands-on experiences that will help them build confidence and grow skills.

4‑H’s Grow True Leaders Campaign continues to highlight those experiences. We asked young people to tell us which problems facing the world need stronger leaders, or which problems they themselves would like to lead the way in solving. Then they have the opportunity to develop innovative solutions to these problems.

We also asked adults to champion the positive work that today’s youth are doing by recognizing young leaders in their own communities through a digital Shout Out and by helping us provide more opportunities for youth to gain the skills they need to lead.

We’re supporting our youth, and we’re asking adults across the country to do the same. Let’s rally the nation to grow a generation of True Leaders.



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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