group of students
Teen Dreams Co Lab members and co-creators. (Photo courtesy of Linda Staheli)

Linda Staheli believes in the power of youth.

“We’re really into creating teen change-makers,” she says, during a recent sit-down at her workspace, the CoWork Cafe in Arlington. The former government employee saw the energy and mobilization of young people over the years, especially when others seemed to turn a blind eye to it.

“Teens have historically always had a big role [in societal changes],” says Staheli.

She’s the one-woman band behind the Arlington-based nonprofit Global Co Lab Network, an organization dedicated to helping individuals from ages 13 to 35 foster collaboration and address the tougher, bigger issues that the world is facing today.

“I really wanted to find out how we could address these global challenges, and mobilize key people to solve them,” says Staheli.

In order to do that, Staheli created an organization that would allow her to tap into the motivation of the youth by connecting them with mentors (using some of her own connections), fostering communication opportunities and ultimately making change happen as a result

After four years and over 50 local meetings, Teens Dream Co Lab was co-created with the help of local NoVA teens (from high schools such as Oakton High School and the Thomas Jefferson School for Science and Technology), as a branch of the Global Co Lab Network that is dedicated to bringing students together virtually, to address topics from climate action to gender equality.

What a “Co Lab,” or virtual discussion group looks like for Teens Dream Co Lab. (Photo courtesy of Linda Staheli)

“A lot of organizations focused on the youth population over 18,” says Staheli. So, according to Staheli, she decided to meet the need of those looking to get involved who might be deemed “too young” or “too inexperienced.”

The nonprofit is now partially funded by a partnership with the Smithsonian and other organizations, using its platform to create virtual spaces for students all over the world to connect. There are “co labs,” (i.e. virtual hangouts and discussions) that touch on tough topics, speak several languages and mobilize into bigger initiatives when they can.

And the teens have already made their waves.

The Eco Teen Action Network, a local chapter of Teen Dreams Co Lab that focuses on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, will be honored on Dec. 6 at the sixth annual Four Generations of Leaders in Clean Energy & Sustainable Solutions Awards and Holiday Celebration for their recent initiatives.

And back in September, members of Teen Dreams Co Lab marched in solidarity with well-known, teen climate crisis advocate Greta Thunberg in Washington, DC.

Members of Teens Dream Co Lab marched during the climate marches held in Washington, DC. (Photo courtesy of Linda Staheli)

People like Thunberg are the perfect example of the type of young individuals that Staheli wants to get involved in Teen Dreams Co Lab.

“This is for any kid on the planet who wants to be a change-maker,” says Staheli. “It’s all about empowering them.”

For the sixth year in a row, the organization launched its annual video competition. It’s one of its biggest initiatives worldwide, having previously gathered more than 400 submissions from over 40 countries.

This year’s competition will name nine winners in April 2020. Each winner from across the globe will win up to $500 and will be sent to Washington, DC, where each teen will be honored with an award and paired with a mentor to learn and experience further the type of change they want to make.

Until Jan. 13, 2020, students can submit a two-minute video focused on Earth Optimism (a partnership and initiative by the Smithsonian Institute) and pertaining to one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. According to Staheli, it’s incredible to see what national and international students come up with.

“Teens want to be a part of the solutions,” says Staheli. And she’s hoping to help them get there, one step at a time.

The organization is still in its growing phase, says Staheli. She is always on the lookout for mentors and students who are looking to get involved. No matter what skills you bring to the table, Staheli believes you can find a co lab to fit into and help propel towards action.

“We truly want to incubate initiatives and bring people together,” says Staheli.

For more information on Global Co Lab NetworkTeens Dream Co Lab or the Smithsonian’s Earth Optimism partnership, be sure to check out the website. And if you know a student who may want to enter the video contest, submissions are being accepted here.