A qualitative research study from CoGenerate and 31 young leaders who are committed to working across generations for change ↔ A qualitative research study from CoGenerate and 31 young leaders who are committed to working across generations for change ↔ A qualitative research study from CoGenerate and 31 young leaders who are committed to working across generations for change ↔ A qualitative research study from CoGenerate and 31 young leaders who are committed to working across generations for change ↔

Supported by AARP with additional funding from The Eisner Foundation


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America today is one of the most age-diverse societies in history. Sadly, it is also one of the most age segregated, with older and younger people’s paths rarely crossing outside of families.

The combination of age diversity and age segregation contributes to generational conflict, ageism and misunderstanding, and the epidemic of social isolation and loneliness. It also constitutes a missed opportunity to make the most of our age diversity, to bring older and younger people together to solve the problems that no generation can solve alone.

In March of 2022, CoGenerate (formerly Encore.org) commissioned NORC at the University of Chicago to find out what a nationally representative group of Americans think about cogeneration — a strategy to bring older and younger people together to solve problems and bridge divides. We wanted to know if older and younger people want to work together to help others and improve the world around them. Turns out they do.

The research findings were clear: 81% of survey respondents aged 18-94 say they want to work with different generations to improve the world. Nearly all agree (more than half “strongly”) that we would be less divided as a society if older and younger generations worked together to improve their communities.

Perhaps most striking, the generation with the strongest interest in cogeneration is Gen Z. Survey results show that 76% of Gen Z and 70% of Millennial respondents say they wish they had more opportunities to work across generations for change.

We wanted to dive deeper to better understand what’s driving this interest among Gen Z and Millennials – particularly young leaders who have experience working across generations. What exactly do younger leaders want from older leaders, allies and colleagues? And how do they believe intergenerational collaboration can be improved? 

With support from AARP, and additional funding from The Eisner Foundation, we set out to find answers.

Source: Cogeneration

About this study

During September and October of 2023, CoGenerate conducted individual video interviews with 31 leaders from 12 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, ranging in age from 18 to 31. We looked for young people committed to and experienced in working across generations for change — leaders willing to provide honest, if not always easy, answers.

We sought diversity of many kinds. The group is racially diverse, including 22 people of color who identify as either Black, Mexican American, Asian American, Native American, Indian American, Egyptian American, Iranian American, or mixed race. LGBTQ leaders are represented. The group, which is majority female (21 women; 10 men), includes people from diverse economic backgrounds.

The young leaders are a mix of social entrepreneurs, activists and nonprofit leaders who are working on climate change, immigration, civic engagement, mental health and loneliness, gun violence, reproductive rights, influencer marketing, the creative arts and more. Nearly all have had at least one transformative relationship with an older person, someone they connected deeply with both personally and professionally.

The young leaders share an impatience to make the world a better place, with many having begun their professional work in high school, driven by a frustration with societal problems and a desire to find a like-minded community. To accomplish their goals, they told us, learning how to work well with older people was required.

After the video interviews were completed, we gathered 18 of the young leaders for an in-person focus group at AARP headquarters in Washington D.C., exploring key themes culled from the one-on-one conversations. We also interviewed three academic experts on generational issues for their thoughts and observations on younger generations and their ideas for how to improve intergenerational collaboration. (The names of all young leaders and experts can be found at the end of this report.)

Throughout this study, it was important for us to walk our cogenerational talk. We sought out opportunities to work with young leaders, consulting them on how the project should unfold, seeking input and co-creating communications, group activities, event design and short-form videos. All of them were compensated for their time.


Kenna Embree, 23, first became curious about older adults when she was 17 and her grandmother moved into a long-term care facility. She enjoyed getting to know the other residents so much that she started her first intergenerational program, Seniors Friending Seniors, which connected 10 high school seniors to 10 older adults to write letters and then meet for tea and pastries. “I noticed that my friends weren’t as comfortable talking with older adults and I wanted to expand their skill set,” she says. Her newest program, Fur-Ever Friends, places foster pets in the homes of seniors who reside at Vincentian’s Independent Living sites; a young person shares responsibilities for caring for the animal.

Photograph by Ed Kashi

Source: Pew Research, U.S. Census data

Source: U.S. Census data

“A lot of youth activists and leaders are on the margins of something, whether it’s that they’re queer or a person of color or an outsider in some way. I think being othered gives you a lens to empathize with people who are being marginalized in other ways. It can drive you to explore why and solve problems that are more systemic.”

— Katie Eder, Stanford University senior and founder of Future Coalition, an intergenerational organization supporting the work of youth organizers and youth-serving organizations

  1. Generational conflict? Not always.

  2. Personal connection before collaboration. Always.

  3. No one wants to be dismissed because of their age.

  4. Cash over compliments.

  5. Young leaders aren’t afraid to talk about mental health.

  6. Productive conflict? Digital natives have few models.

  7. “Paying your dues” isn’t working.

  8. The future of leadership is cogenerational.

The young leaders we spoke with were positive, constructive and insightful. In many hours of conversation with them, we heard eight consistent themes.

Photograph by Jeremiah Brooks / Drexel University’s Writer’s Room

1. Generational conflict? Not always.

“Older people expect our generation to not be interested in interacting with them. But there’s so much that we can benefit from talking about together. And if we never think the other group wants to speak with us, then we’ll never have those conversations.”

— Carly Roman,
program officer at the Archstone Foundation

We heard deep appreciation for older people who have walked alongside the young leaders, explaining the mistakes and successes of the past and helping them navigate challenging circumstances with the benefit of historical context. “I would not be where I am today if we were not organizing in an intergenerational way,” says Katie Eder, a Stanford University senior and the founder of Future Coalition, an intergenerational organization supporting the work of youth organizers and youth-serving organizations.

Cole Stevens, co-founder of Bridgemakers, an organization focused on youth leadership, agrees. “It’s important for young people to understand the intrinsic value of older people being the keepers of wisdom and experiences that we haven’t had. They can look at the world and recognize these long-term, cyclical themes that we can’t see.”

Some expressed frustration that younger generations are being stereotyped as ungrateful or uninterested in learning from elders. “This idea that older people screwed us over and stole everything needs to change,” says Allison Begalman, CEO of YEA! Impact and a co-founder of the Hollywood Climate Summit. “Sure, there are some awful old people, but most of them are good and want to do good in the world.”

As Jada Ford, a roving listener at The Learning Tree, says: “Younger people aren’t trying to take over. We just want to add value and help in any way we can.”

Nearly all of the young leaders we spoke with recalled at least one transformative relationship they’ve had with an older person who helped establish their appreciation for older generations.

The late Harry Belafonte — singer, actor and civil rights activist — mentored one of the young leaders in the group. “He was the prime example of an adult ally,” says Brea Baker, a racial justice organizer, speaker and author who met Belafonte when she was 19 and he was in his late 80s. “He’d invite me into his office and ask me how he could support me. He would share wisdom and encourage me to try things with the knowledge of what did and didn’t work in the past. His friendship and guidance were invaluable.”

Denise Webb, a sophomore at Berry College in Georgia, spoke similarly about Wendy Lesko, an author and co-founder of Youth Infusion and the Youth Activism Project. “She came to me,” Webb recalls. “I was on a podcast, sharing my experience with inequality, and I said something about how I like to do creative writing. Wendy emailed me, saying she wanted to interview me about my life and working with adults. A year later, she asked me to work with her on a book about intergenerational collaboration and said I’d be compensated.” Their co-authored book, Why Aren’t We Doing This! Collaborating with Minors in Major Ways, was published in September, 2023.

“If we don’t learn from the past, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. I think there’s enormous power in admitting that you might not know everything.”

Emily Garcia-Green, chief youth development officer at BridgeUSA

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2. Personal connection before collaboration. Always.

“Maybe it’s from my community perspective as an Indigenous person, but if we don’t have a relationship at some basic level, then I don’t really want anything from you.”

— Loren Waters,
filmmaker and casting director

The young leaders we spoke with want to connect on a human level first.

“You have to share vulnerability with young people,” advises Joseph Cooper, PhD, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston who started a mentoring program for Black college athletes. “Without authenticity and vulnerability, young people won’t see the scars and adversity that got you to the place you are. They’ll just see a polished package sitting in front of them.”

The young leaders we spoke with stressed the importance of coming from a place of curiosity, being authentic, and centering personal experience over facts and opinions.

“There is nothing less powerful than beginning a conversation with facts, because there is no shared truth,” says Thanasi Dilos, co-founder of Civics Unplugged, an intergenerationally-led organization focused on developing youth leadership and civic engagement. “We all live in completely different realities, defined by the content we consume and who we talk to. The only thing we have that’s inarguably valuable and true is our lived experience. That is the only way you can connect with someone on a human level. After you accomplish that, you can bring in your expertise.”

Many of the young leaders talked about identifying shared values and common goals as a way to connect. “Are you willing to listen to someone who has a different lived experience and perspective but wants to advance the exact same thing as you?” asks Natalie Green, a communications strategist working in reproductive rights.

Another way to foster connection? “Validate the other person’s concerns,” says Chris Barnard, president of the American Conservation Coalition, a nonprofit founded by politically conservative Millennials who are passionate about protecting the environment. “We might have a different way of seeing the problem or approaching the solution, but we can still establish a common ground of concern.”

Connecting on a human level is no small task, but it’s arguably the most important. “Relationship building is the biggest piece of any solidarity work and it takes time,” says Aleks Liou, PhD, an educator and researcher working alongside youth activists to better understand how relationships and solidarity are built across generational lines.


After graduating from Harvard, Apoorva Rangan was selected for the Frederick Sheldon Traveling Fellowship, which encourages recent graduates to study and explore. She spent four months living alongside elders at Humanitas, a nursing home in the Netherlands. “I realized I wanted to immerse myself in the lives of older people,” she says. “I found it invigorating. I think it was the first time I’d been somewhere where truly nobody cared what school I’d attended; they just cared about me as a person and a neighbor.” Rangan is now a med student at Stanford, exploring her interest in improving care for marginalized older patients and strengthening intergenerational connection.

Photograph courtesy of All Hands All Hearts

“Just believe that we actually want to hear from you. We just don’t always know how to do it.”

— Zhailon Levingston, artistic director at the Inheritance Theater Project

Photo courtesy of Brenda Atchison (left)

3. No one wants to be dismissed because of their age.

“I’ve encountered older people unwilling to consider my perspective because ‘it’s the way it’s always been done’ or ‘it takes time and resources to make a change,’ or they don’t want to admit that what they’ve been doing isn’t very productive.”

— Emily Garcia-Green, 
chief youth development officer at BridgeUSA

The young people we spoke with want older people to listen, take their perspectives into account and recognize their value.

Hulissa Aguilar became an activist at the age of 12, after her father was detained by ICE. Now a senior in high school, she works part-time as a youth leader and social media coordinator at Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity, defending the rights of immigrants and the incarcerated. “I think it’s important for older leaders to recognize that times are changing and allow young people to share their ideas and input,” she says, “because a lot of the current problems will have longer-term impacts that won’t affect them as much as they will affect us.”

“Young people already have a lot to offer with a unique vantage point,” says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, PhD, a leading voice in youth civic engagement and board member at March for Our Lives. “We need their lived experience and knowledge to make informed decisions as a society.”

Aleks Liou, a researcher and program manager of Youth Action for the Planet at the California Academy of Sciences, agrees. “Young people aren’t citizens of tomorrow but young people of today, and their needs and wants need to be attended to.”

Many of the young leaders shared experiences of older people minimizing or discouraging their contributions to important conversations. “It seems like when you approach an older person, there’s not a lot of humility to accept feedback or you’re told, ‘just wait until you’re older,’” says Emily Garcia-Green, chief youth development officer at BridgeUSA.

“Mentorship is often assumed,” adds Zev Shapiro, founder of TurnUp and a Harvard student writing his senior thesis on how to connect older donors and foundations with younger nonprofit leaders.

“Older generations often come in feeling like they’re expected to know everything, and they start talking,” says Zhailon Levingston, artistic director at the Inheritance Theater Project. “Younger generations often feel they’re perceived as knowing less, which can sometimes mean we try to beat older people to the punch and show you what we know.”

Older generations in America are predominantly white; younger generations are increasingly people of color. That can add a racial element to being overlooked. “I’ve encountered older people who minimize the struggles of young people of color solely because they don’t have relatable lived experience,” says Denise Webb, a junior at Berry College and co-author of Why Aren’t We Doing This! Collaborating with Minors in Major Ways.

“Your objective shouldn’t be telling young leaders the solution. It should be asking questions that make the entire landscape clearer so we can see all the pitfalls and find our own solution.”

— Thanasi Dilos, co-founder of Civics Unplugged

4. Cash over compliments.

“I think a lot of adult allies look at young people as, ‘Aww, they’re so cute.’ It leads to this place where young leaders get complimented a lot but don’t get actual support and resources to sustain the work they do.”

— Brea Baker,
racial justice organizer, speaker and author

Invitations and speaking gigs can be complicated. “We shouldn’t just be invited to attend events focused on Gen Z,” says Ariana Jasmine Afshar, a progressive political content creator. “We should be speaking on panels, rather than having Millennials talk about us. I think sometimes older organizers are worried we’ll talk about things that make them uncomfortable.”

When invitations come, young people often attend. Older allies? Not so much. “Young people will attend adult-led events to learn from them, and because that’s where much of the money and power is,” says Pooja Tilvawala, founder of Youth Climate Collaborative. “But when we invite older people to youth-led events, not many come.”

Introductions are welcome, but Social Currant CEO Ashwath Narayanan asks older allies to stop there. “Just make introductions and leave it to us to make something happen. Don’t micromanage us or tell us what to do.”

Money is always the elephant in the room. “Have a budget and don’t ask us to do anything for free,” says YEA! Impact CEO and Hollywood Climate Summit co-founder Allison Begalman. “There’s an illusion that if you have a ton of followers on social media you’re successful and have money. That’s not at all true. Most of us are really struggling to find the support we need to sustain our work.”

The biggest rub? A combination of condescension, compliments, and no money.

“Who is funding adult-led organizations to integrate young people and youth voices in a meaningful way?” asks Thanasi Dilos, co-founder of Civics Unplugged. “Who are the funders that are pushing young people or solely youth-led organizations to collaborate with older generations and sustain the work they’re doing? That has to be the next step.”


Zev Shapiro, 21, is the founder of TurnUp, a nonprofit and mobile app focused on youth-led voter registration and turnout. He’s graduating from Harvard this year and writing his senior thesis on how to connect older donors and foundations with younger nonprofit leaders. “A lot of my time as a young founder has been spent talking with older adults and donors,” Shapiro says. “There’s a lot of existing literature on youth organizing,” he says, “but none of it relates to funding, which has become more important recently as young people have been doing more, especially in the pro-democracy space. How are they raising money and succeeding? I thought that question was worth exploring.”

Photograph courtesy of Sacred Design Lab

“You’re trying to leave a legacy, and I’m trying to start one.”

— Cole Stevens, co-founder of Bridgemakers

Photograph by Victoria Wall Harris

5. Young leaders aren’t afraid to talk about mental health.

“I don’t think older generations were given space to talk about their feelings and emotions and what was happening to them when they were growing up. They were just taught to survive. I think because they tend to minimize their own emotions, they can tend to minimize the emotions and struggles of younger generations.”

— Raquel Padia,
program coordinator for Fresno EOC Generations Serving Together

Much has been written about the mental health struggles of young people over the past few years — from reporting the highest levels of loneliness to severe anxiety and depression, a continued rise in accidental overdoses, and more. “This is a generation with high rates of anxiety,” says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg. “It’s safe to assume that’s the norm.”

Millennials and Gen Z were born during the “war on terror” following 9/11. They heard the ticking clock of climate change, saw the video of George Floyd being killed by police, participated in school shooter drills, and lived through a global pandemic that killed millions and exacerbated social isolation. When we asked young leaders why they feel so anxious, many spoke about growing up with access to the internet and 24-hour news and social media.

“I feel like young people today are exposed to more pain and suffering and adult topics,” says Thanasi Dilos, co-founder of Civics Unplugged. “Neuroscience says our prefrontal cortex is not growing at a faster pace, but the information we’re taking in and the way we’re processing it has. I don’t think we know the long-term impacts of that yet.”

Nearly everyone we spoke with feels they’re just one mistake away from being caught doing something wrong. “Young people are scared of being canceled, too,” says Serena Bian, a special advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General on the loneliness epidemic and a CoGenerate board member. “We live in a culture of punishment and cancellation. We have to work together to change that.”

Despite these challenges, many young people take on the additional pressure that comes with leadership. “I went into leadership out of pure necessity,” says Cole Stevens, co-founder of Bridgemakers. “I had to help my parents out of debt, I fought to change legislation surrounding unemployment benefits and then I started a nonprofit organization. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into and felt like I was going to have a heart attack for about a year.”

Some of the young leaders we spoke with who identify with marginalized groups say they’ve experienced discrimination from or felt attacked by older people, which adds to anxiety and can create hesitation to collaborate.

“I was living near Pulse nightclub when that mass shooting happened,” a March for Our Lives organizer who chose to remain anonymous, explains. “I initially joined March for Our Lives to seek refuge from attacks on my identity that have, in many cases, come from older conservatives living in Florida. So there’s always some apprehension when we’re meeting with older officials and organizers because of that. We’re trying to form a safe community and drive progress, but there’s a fear of being retraumatized.”

Where’s the support that could help? Too often, it’s not there. “The mental health field requires an immediate and radical transformation to better serve young people of color,” says Mahmoud Khedr, who founded FloraMind and has worked with MTV and the White House on developing culturally relevant approaches to mental health care in America.

Complicating matters further, there’s a generation gap when it comes to interest in mental health and comfort level talking about it. In our research with NORC at the University of Chicago, Gen Z and Millennial respondents ranked mental health as the top issue they want to work on with older generations. But mental health didn’t make the top five issues Boomer and Silent Generation respondents want to work on with younger people.


Raquel Padia, 29, a program coordinator for Fresno Economic Opportunities Commision, runs an intergenerational mental wellness program where older and younger volunteers come together as a team to create lesson plans for elementary school youth on emotional literacy, coping skills and identifying feelings. For Padia, struggling with her own mental health has been a motivating force in her professional work. “I think at first I was trying to help others because I couldn’t help myself,” she reflects. “Then it became about passing on the knowledge I had learned through my own trauma recovery. And helping others made me feel better.”

Source: Loneliness in America, 2021

Source: Cogenerate

6. Productive conflict? Digital natives have few models.

“Disagreement is a productive tool. But young people aren’t learning it because most of the conflict we see is online. And there, it’s something we’ve learned to ignore.”

— Thanasi Dilos,
co-founder of Civics Unplugged

It can take a lifetime to learn when to speak up, assert a boundary, avoid people-pleasing, stop taking things personally, and disagree without damaging relationships.

Many young leaders who have grown up online acknowledge that these are areas of development for them, and that having productive conversations across generational (and other) differences requires a lot of skill. “It’s not as easy as waving your finger and telling people to have a more open mind,” Cole Stevens, co-founder of Bridgemakers, says.

Carly Roman, a program officer at the Archstone Foundation and a member of the Eisner Intergenerational Orchestra (she plays the drums), says it’s important for young people to learn how to sit with discomfort. “There will be older people we fundamentally disagree with,” she says, “and it’s not our job to change or shame them.”

“You don’t always have to share what you think,” says Loren Waters, a filmmaker and casting director focused on Indigenous representation and environmental preservation. “You can decide whether or not it’s worth your energy. And if someone has a different point of view, it’s not a personal attack on your character – it’s just their perspective.”

Sydne Clarke is a Howard University sophomore studying political science and journalism and a producer of Untextbooked, a podcast where high schoolers and college students interview leading historians about their books. “Picking your battles is important,” she says. “I’m all for debating issues, but when the conversation shifts to human rights or moral issues, that’s really difficult. It’s a slippery slope.”

Part of the challenge, Chris Barnard, president of the American Conservation Coalition, explains, is that young people are mostly exposed to conflict on social media – where it is rarely productive.

“I think young people have come to almost expect a type of frictionless communication, where you don’t really have to deal with disagreement or conflict or accountability in real-time,” Barnard says. “You can act pleasant and then go on TikTok and put someone on blast and think that because it’s generating likes and comments, you’re making a difference. But that’s not actually creating meaningful change and it’s not factoring in the wisdom and experience of older people.”

Photograph by Devin Welsh / Drexel University’s Writer’s Room

“For a generation that is so in touch with their mental health and feelings, oftentimes the therapy-speak leaves people feeling they should only worry about themselves. That often leads young people to walk away from situations and people we find toxic. We lose out when this is our go-to solution. I don’t think we do enough of inviting people in, saying, ‘The water is warm, let’s swim in this together.’”

— Sophie Beren, founder and CEO of The Conversationalist

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Photography by S. Smith Patrick

7. “Paying your dues” isn’t working.

“I wish that older folks could consider what we’re dealing with in this day and age socially, economically, and politically with more empathy and understanding, instead of expecting us to pursue the life path that they took. Things look different for us.”

— Allison Begalman,
CEO of YEA! Impact and co-founder of the Hollywood Climate Summit

The young leaders we spoke with question the value of playing by the same rules their parents and grandparents played by, when the world they see is so different.

Emily Garcia-Green, chief youth development officer at BridgeUSA, explains it by relating a conversation she had with her father. “My Dad is Gen X and a first-generation Mexican American. He was promised the American Dream if he went to college and paid his dues. But, from my perspective as a Gen Z, that American Dream is no longer the same. If I pay my dues, I’m not guaranteed a house or even a basic middle class lifestyle. So that’s why I’m trying to forge a different path to success. When I explained this to him, it was like a light switch. He thought we were looking at the same picture, but we’re looking out at two totally different landscapes.”

Brea Baker, a racial justice organizer, speaker and author of an upcoming book, Rooted: The American Legacy of Land Theft and the Modern Movement for Black Land Ownership, agrees that the promised payoffs are missing.

“People my age have resigned themself to always being in debt, never being able to own homes,” Baker says. “None of what you’re selling us is believable. Why play by your rules if your rules are going to have this kind of an impact?”

We heard the impatience typical of all younger generations, but it was tinged by disbelief in outcomes other generations may have seen as inevitable and by the existential crises of climate change and inequity. “We worry that, if the ‘pay your dues’ mentality prevails, forcing us to do things as they’ve always been done, by the time we do hold positions of power, it will be too late,” Baker says.

Natalie Green, a communications strategist working in reproductive rights, questions whether the goals set by previous generations went far enough to benefit all, not just some. “A lot of legacy reproductive rights organizations are led by older white women and for years they were focused on maintaining the status quo, which meant protecting Roe v. Wade,” Green says. “But during Roe v. Wade many young women, particularly young women of color, were driving hundreds of miles and going into debt to get an abortion. So the status quo was never really enough.”

“Young people are going to push against what you’re presenting to us as the truth to see if it’s hollow or not, because so many institutions have failed us.”

– Jordan Bowman, executive director at Journeymen Triangle

8. The future of leadership is cogenerational.

“The phrase that always got thrown at me was, ‘You are the future, you’re going to solve all the problems in the world,’ and it really rubbed me the wrong way. Don’t put that all on my shoulders, it’s an unfair burden to say one generation is responsible for solving problems that existed before we were even born. I’ve learned to say thank you, but let’s build this thing together.”

— Jordan Bowman,
executive director at Journeymen Triangle

All of the young leaders we spoke with want to work with older leaders to co-create a better future. They see big-picture potential when older and younger people bring their complementary skills and talents to the table.

“Young people have tremendous cultural power, and older people have tremendous material power,” says Manu Meel, the CEO of BridgeUSA. “If you can combine those two things, it can transform society.”

Eve Levenson is a political strategist and organizer who spent years working on gun violence prevention policy with March for Our Lives and Team ENOUGH/Brady. “Policy change can’t happen without youth-led social movements behind them,” she says. “It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

It can be a symbiotic workforce, too. When Zhailon Levingston, artistic director at the Inheritance Theater Project, became the youngest Black director on Broadway, he had support for his productions but needed actors. “What I was able to experience early in my career,” he says, “is that I needed people to work with, and the older generation needed work. As a result, I got to work with legendary actors, and there was an enthusiasm to collaborate with me that I didn’t expect.”

Of course, many older and younger people don’t have resources or power. Many of the young leaders we spoke with noted that both older and younger people are fighting against ageism and for relevance. Some suggested this could be a hidden strength or an opportunity to connect more deeply. “We have a lot more in common than both sides think,” says Kenna Embree, founder of Fur-Ever Friends and manager of community life at Vincentian.

The young leaders we spoke with had positive views about cogenerational leadership, uniting older and younger leaders to share power and responsibility, learn from one another, and possibly pave the way for leadership succession.

“Intergenerational collaboration works best when it’s a two-way street and there’s mutual understanding and removing of stigma. The relationship is based on hope and optimism but also on accountability and progress,” says Mahmoud Khedr, founder and CEO of FloraMind. “Young people aren’t just used as a ‘youth voice,’ but they are actually on the leadership team or board of directors.”

“I hear numerous leaders speak to the need for succession planning in their organizations and movements, but this feels quite transactional,” said Serena Bian, a CoGenerate board member and special advisor to the U.S. Surgeon General. “Rather than ‘succession,’ what forms of intergenerational leadership might we practice? What beautiful collaborations might emerge from cross-generational stewardship?”

And, as Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, a board member at March for Our Lives, asks: “What are we [older people] willing to change as a result of partnering with young people?”

“What story do we want to tell together?” asks Brittany T. Paschall, a teacher who is currently getting her masters at Harvard Divinity School and is the founder of We Remember Nashville, an intergenerational effort that aims to address the historical terror of lynching and public memory in Davidson County, Tennessee.

“This is the central question of intergenerational work for me,” Paschall says. “It’s not about me and you, but about what story we cogenerate together. How do we tell a more complete story that doesn’t erase anything – that represents our collective work? This requires seeing all stakeholders as equally valuable and understanding that we are more powerful together.”

“At the end of the day, all we want is to live in a just world,” says Hulissa Aguilar, immigrant rights activist, “so we really do have to work together to get there.”


Nonya Khedr is an Egyptian immigrant and women’s rights advocate who works as the grassroots advocacy coordinator for Amnesty International USA. Earlier in her life, she founded a nonprofit to advocate against female genital mutilation (FGM) and spent years running educational advocacy workshops for youth in an effort to empower them to reduce the practice of FGM. “There are over 200 million women and girls around the world who have undergone the practice and 400 million at risk every year,” Khedr explains. “There is a big generational gap. Many older generations of women have been pressured to believe that FGM will reduce their daughter’s sexual desire and ensure they find a good husband. Younger generations are pushing back. I spoke with moms, grandmas, and younger folks to understand where they were coming from. As an outsider, it’s hard to come into a community and say that what you’re doing is wrong. It requires a lot of intergenerational work.”

Photograph courtesy of MetroMorphosis

“I think a lot of youth have created their own organizations to maintain freedom over decision making and have that power that would be difficult to get if you were working within an adult-led organization.”

— Pooja Tilvawala, founder of Youth Climate Collaborative


  • Listen.

    When trying to build bridges and trust, listening is almost everything.

    “Listen to others with the same fiery passion you feel for being heard.” 

    — Sophie Beren, founder and CEO of The Conversationalist, a platform and movement empowering Gen Z to unify through difficult conversations

  • Be optimistic.

    No one needs “toxic positivity,” but a belief that we can make a positive difference goes a long way.

    “Keep an open mind for how things could be better. Share your past experiences and learnings but don’t dismiss possibilities for the future. The world has changed so much in the last 50 years. Maybe what didn’t work then could work now. Don’t bring pessimism.” 

    — Natalie Green, communications strategist working in reproductive rights

  • Embrace humility.

    Be honest about what you don’t know; share what you do.

    “Self-awareness is really important for our generation but it can actually go too far, where we’re self-absorbed. I’d love to see more self-awareness from older people and less self-absorption from younger people. To have everyone embrace humility.” 

    — Jordan Bowman, executive director at Journeymen Triangle

  • Build relationships first.

    Relate to young people as peers. Start conversations about human experiences. The partnership can follow.

    “I worked closely with a colleague in leadership who was 40 years older than me. We chatted about everything because there was an understanding there. They did the work, so when they were speaking, I was listening. And they trusted me, too. We built power together.”

    — Dillon St. Bernard, the founder of creative collective Team DSB and the communications director at Future Coalition

  • Don’t tell young people they are your hope for the future.

    They are likely to feel pressure and resentment if you don’t also convey a shared sense of responsibility.

    “When I think about the people I’ve been in relationship with who are harmful, it’s adults who are putting their own hopes and aspirations on young people. I worked with someone for a while and they were a big part of pushing me to be more of a public voice in the climate movement. For them, there was a lot of ‘I wish I could have done this when I was younger’ and ‘I wish someone told me to do this when I was younger.’” 

    — Katie Eder, founder of Future Coalition

  • Create safe spaces.

    Be aware of the need for emotional and physical safety and for the chance to make and learn from one’s mistakes. Talk about how to handle conflict in advance.

    “If I didn’t understand something people were talking about during a conference call, I’d follow up with a call to this one older adult I’d developed a relationship with, and they would explain it to me while still seeing me as a partner. That’s the ideal – you’re safe to ask questions and be vulnerable, regardless of generation.” 

    — Eve Levenson, reflecting on her time working on gun violence prevention

  • Don’t assume young people want to be mentored.

    Unsolicited advice is never welcome. Build a relationship first, then respond to requests or ask before offering an opinion.

    “To foster collaboration, don’t approach the relationship as a mentor but rather a partner.  I would love for age not to be a barrier between two people. Remember, you’re speaking to another human, have an open mind. This is an opportunity to learn.” 

    — Nonya Khedr, grassroots advocacy coordinator at Amnesty International USA

  • Offer real help to young leaders whose goals you share.

    Young leaders need introductions, opportunities, money for their time, and financial support for their cause.

    “Have a budget and don’t ask us to do anything for free.” 

    — Allison Begalman, CEO at YEA! Impact and co-founder of the Hollywood Climate Summit

  • Don’t just share power. Co-create it.

    Give young people authority commensurate with their responsibility and the power to affect change.

    “If you are in a position of power, be intentional as you age about identifying ways to transfer knowledge and support the next generation.” 

    — Brea Baker, racial justice organizer, speaker and author


Not all young people are committed to working across generations for the greater good, but we’ve chosen to listen to and learn from those who are. We hope their words spark conversations and spur change.

We encourage you to discuss this report with older and younger people in your life. What resonates? What changes can you make to age-integrate your life at work, on campus, in your place of worship or where you volunteer? How can you share the power you have? How can you bring cogenerational strategies to all you do?

We hope to follow this report with its counterpart, a study asking older leaders what they want, and don’t want, from younger allies. We hope to bring older and younger leaders together to talk, learn from one another, and lead a movement to co-create a better future. We invite you to join us.


We are grateful for support from AARP and The Eisner Foundation, which made this report possible. A special thank you to Barb Quaintance, Vice President, Enterprise Strategies at AARP; Kevin Donnellan, Executive Vice President and Chief of Staff at AARP; and Trent Stamp, CEO of The Eisner Foundation, for their leadership and longstanding support. Thanks also to AARP employees Stephen Voss, Michael Wichita, George Kolotov, Andy Portnoy and Nicolas Gouffray.

Thanks to the academics and experts in generational studies we spoke with, including Joseph Cooper, PhD, Special Assistant to the Chancellor for Black Life at the University of Massachusetts Boston; Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, PhD, Newhouse Director of CIRCLE at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life and a board member at March for Our Lives; and Aleks Liou, PhD, an educator and researcher working alongside youth activists to better understand how relationships of solidarity are built across generational lines.

We are enormously grateful to the 31 young leaders who participated in this study — taking time to connect with us and share their honest thoughts and feelings about how to improve intergenerational collaboration. A special thank you to Jordan Bowman, Ariana Jasmine Afshar, Dillon St. Bernard and Allison Begalman for assisting us as consultants. You can learn about the work the 31 young leaders are doing and support their efforts below.

Young leaders at AARP headquarters in Washington, DC, on November 15, 2023

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