Create More Leaders

What young people know

World leaders should take their lead from the thousands of Gen Z-ers taking over Manchester this week

If you haven’t been to a One Young World summit, trust me: there aren’t many more uplifting events. Thousands of young people from across the world, coming together to talk solutions to our greatest shared challenges: conflict, inequality, climate change, the rise of fake news, an ongoing pandemic, a broken economic system which still leaves millions behind. The mood this week in Manchester, where we’ve been for this year’s event, is serious, collaborative, and energized. World leaders preparing for a string of summits this autumn could take a lesson.

It’s my privilege, as Chair of the Global Advisory Board, to meet and address the delegates each year. It’s a refreshingly tough crowd: don’t expect an easy ride. They don’t want platitudes and promises, or simply to be told how inspiring they are. They want their anxieties recognized, their leaders to step up, and their place at the table guaranteed, as partners in driving the change the world needs. 75% of today’s young people say they are afraid of the future. Nearly half don’t know if they’ll have children. The majority feel betrayed.

And yet they are all about hope. A candid kind of hope, tempered by realism. They know there isn’t going to be some kind of “eureka” moment: no global meeting where all the big players come together and realise they need to act. They are prepared for more greenwashing and virtue-signalling by some in business; more empty words from some in government; and more short-term profiteering from many in the financial markets.

But equally they see the opportunities: President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act; Australia’s change of government; Brazil’s upcoming election; the fact that 90% of global emissions, thousands of companies, and almost a third of the world’s assets under management are now committed to some kind of net zero target. Their challenge to us is, rightly: how are we all going to build on this momentum, to build a new more inclusive, more stable, global economy – and how are we going to drive this transition with real speed and scale?

Their demand – for collaboration and action – can no longer be ignored. While they might not all always feel like it, young people have more power in their hands than at any other moment in history.

As activists – as we’ll see again in a few weeks when thousands take to the streets to call for action on climate change and human rights, while Heads of State meet at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

As an economic force – in countries around the globe, millennials have become the biggest generation, making up most of the workforce, with the most purchasing power, and Gen Z won’t be far behind. Gen Z is the most likely generation to boycott a company or country because of a political, social or environmental issue. Just one in five would work for an employer who doesn’t share their values.

As innovators and value creators – for every $1 invested in initiatives involving One Young World Ambassadors, they deliver $16 of social value.

And as a political force – especially when they turn out to vote. Along with women voters, young Australian voters helped kick out Scott Morris’ government in May. More young people turning out to vote in the United States in 2020 was decisive in getting Trump out of the Whitehouse. Soon, Gen Z-ers will starting holding office themselves. Even in conservative Florida, Maxwell Frost, one of the first Gen Z candidates to run for Congress, just won his primary.

Many of the delegates I met in Manchester see this power, and they’re learning how to use it. My advice to them, and to all of us, is to be guided by three, fundamental questions in everything we do.

First, am I truly putting basic human values – dignity, equality, inclusion, justice – at the heart of my mission, including in business? Success comes because of purpose, not in spite of it. Second, am I pushing for higher ambition, reaching for the audacious goals the world needs, not the easy targets I know I can deliver? Third, am I seeking to work with my peers and others in new partnerships for our collective good?

Their push back to my generation, and one that we all need to hear, is to stop wasting time on things that don’t matter. It’s an important reminder and leaders everywhere should take note. We patronize the next generation at our peril. Instead, they should be empowered and supported in the shared effort to fix our economy, heal our societies and regenerate our planet. They are the most committed allies we have.

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