Neil McLennan

In recent times much work has gone on into progressing early intervention strategies to benefit Scottish society and the economy. Historically it is interesting to look back at how, during the Enlightenment, "young people" in their 20s, 30s and early 40s were the drivers of growth, change, reform and thinking internationally. Scotland was a hub and breeding ground of the "young" intelligentsia and also of "do-ers" who rolled up their sleeves and tackled key issues head-on and with the enthusiasm of youth

A number of names spring to mind who would fall into this category Clark Maxwell, Walter Scott, Marie Curie to name but a few. David Hume published one of his greatest works, A Treatise on Human Nature, before reaching his 30s. James Watt was, arguably, the catalyst for the Industrial Revolution also in his 30s. Internationally, Mark Zuckerberg became a billionaire by 26 through an invention which has changed communication and human interaction; Einstein made his greatest finds before his 23rd birthday.

So what has happened to the spirit of youth? In Scotland an emerging and innovative organisation is breathing new life into a modern-day youthful enlightenment. In 2011 the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) took the ambitious step to form a Young Academy of Scotland (YAS). This followed a number of international-learned societies doing the same as part of an effort to provide a platform for young professionals to address key issues facing society. What was innovative about the Young Academy was its inter-disciplinary membership. Setting itself apart from international examples, it recruited from beyond sciences ensuring its membership had representation from Arts and Humanities and other disciplines.

Furthermore its membership reached far further than just academic and contains public, third and business sector interests all of whom which to come together to make a positive difference.

Since 2011 this organisation and its 68 original members have achieved much. Two recruitment opportunities in the past three years have seen its membership rise to 156 inspiring and innovative individuals from across Scotland. Since its inception it has worked on contributing public good in Scotland by taking action on key areas, raising awareness of areas and advocating for action in many areas.

Our work has included the Research the Headlines project which has sought to raise public awareness of the plethora of research reports which can provide public good but which too often are misrepresented in popular media with snappy but often inaccurate headlines.

Furthermore, our members have collectively responded to public consultations, calls for evidence as well as providing a platform for informed discussion on matters as diverse and communities, open data, constitutional reform and entrepreneurship.

The field of educational improvement has been a central focus of many of our groups and members activities. All are keen to ensure the next generation are well equipped to deal with and develop this rapidly changing world for their better. Following the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy, our members rallied to produce a numeracy resource to help learners and teachers see links between Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) numeracy outcomes and a diverse range of jobs which our members undertake. In advance of the 2015 SQA exams our members and partners across Scottish society and beyond rallied to give advice to young people through the online #aspirationaladvice campaign. Early in the academy’s existence the (CfE) group provided a platform for a range of practitioners to come together and review Inter Disciplinary Learning. Furthermore our Computing in Schools group has engaged hundreds of youngsters in Lego League activity across the country.

The last month has marked a key point in the academy’s development as it launches it Strategic Plan. This is a vital part of its development and the proof will be in the outcomes it can deliver. At the organisation's recent annual meeting I left them with the words of another young thinker of his era, Robert F Kennedy: “The world demands the qualities of youth. Not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage of timidity, of the appreciate for adventure over the life of ease.”

If this organisation can continue with its courageous state of mind, willpower to create public good and appetite for adventurous pursuit of improvement and better outcomes, then its action, advocacy and awareness-raising work affirms the future is in good hands. These voices of the future can and will be heard on the big matters facing the world today.

Neil McLennan is the outgoing General Secretary of the Young Academy of Scotland.