How global leaders can restore trust with young people
Every day, thousands of decisions about the future of our communities, countries and the planet are made. Too often, young people are excluded from these decisions. Young people are given limited voice to shape the world—resulting in a crisis of youth mistrust in others and the future.
Vanished is the promise that each generation will be better off than the one before. Instead, young people inherit a world where climate change nears the point of no return; pollution levels reach fatal highs, complex wars show no end in sight and inequalities within societies everywhere skyrocket.
A different approach is crucial to challenge the status quo and deliver the breakthrough solutions our world needs. It is time for all stakeholders and generations to join forces and tackle pressing challenges together. The first step is ensuring young people are meaningfully included in decision-making.
At Davos 2024, this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, the World Economic Forum will use its platform to empower 50 young innovators and activists to advocate for the solutions we need to repair trust in the future and between generations. These changemakers are from diverse cities, countries and walks of life and will bring tangible solutions and inspiring calls for action to world leaders in Davos. What is on their agenda? Young changemakers explain.
Advancing bold actions to protect the planet
Two of the greatest crises of our time are the biodiversity and climate crises. If world leaders want to repair trust with the next generation, they must rapidly reduce emissions, honour their financial commitments and achieve a just transition towards clean energy that creates millions of jobs.
Ann Dumaliang is a young conservationist fighting to protect pinnacle karst formations in Baras, Rizal, Philippines. She is the co-founder and managing trustee of the Masungi Georeserve and as she sees it:
“Governments, industries and businesses have the power, technology and resources to reshape the future. To do so, they must assess the true cost of doing business and acknowledge the disproportionate impacts of their actions on future generations. They must act with empathy, accountability and urgency to invest in nature-based solutions, implement science-backed policies and protect at least 30% of the planet’s land and water by 2023.”
Ahmed Slim Bouakez, an ecopreneur harnessing innovation to advance water conversation in Tunisia, adds: “Transparency plays an instrumental role in rebuilding trust and cooperation regarding the climate emergency. Lack of transparency in land and water management leads to inefficient allocation of resources. When it comes to our resources, we must treat data as a shared asset to pave the way for collaborative solutions and mitigate the risk of conflicts.”
Dumaliang and Bouakez join other climate activists under the age of 30 in Davos, including Ineza Umuhoza, coordinator of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition in Rwanda, Rita Steele, the founder of the BIPOC Sustainability Collective in Canada, Salma Mohammadiyan, an ecopreneur expanding circular innovation in Mexico, and João Rocha, an engineer who helped incite the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to declare a climate emergency.
Ensuring digital technology is an enabler and equalizer
Advances in technology have left no aspect of life untouched. The Fourth Industrial Revolution has fostered innovation, accelerated progress and connected the world in unimaginable ways. Yet we face a colossal digital divide, unprecedented risks related to misinformation, manipulation and surveillance, and pressing ethical, safety and regulatory questions. Young people know that the challenges of emerging technologies need to be tackled head-on and want to be a part of the solution-building process.
According to Kathy Liu, Digital Sovereignty Development Manager at Amazon in the United Kingdom, “Developing digital literacy, sharing data openly and safeguarding online security must be top priorities if decision-makers want to rebuild trust with the next generation in 2024.
“Young people want an open, free and secure digital future, where all people are connected to the Internet by 2030, and where underrepresented groups—including women, minorities and youth—have an equal role in designing, developing and governing new technologies.”
Liu is one inspiring young innovator attending Davos 2024. Others include Antonella Di Ciano, who is using artificial intelligence (AI) to combat environmental crime in Venezuela; Guilherme de Rosso Manços, Head of Innovation at the largest paediatric hospital in Brazil; René Bucken, a young journalist using emerging technologies to combat fake news in Germany; and Marek Miltner, an engineer applying AI tools to solve climate challenges in the Czech Republic.
“Restoring intergenerational trust will not materialize within the confines of corporate boardrooms or the corridors of power. It demands tangible actions to dismantle age barriers in politics and business and systemically integrate young people into decision-making spaces at all levels,” says Miltner.
He adds, “This means guaranteeing that diverse perspectives shape policies and products and endorsing and adequately funding youth-led initiatives for progress. Elevating young people to advisory boards is also paramount, for who else could better advise on the future than those destined to inherit it?”
Realizing the promise of economic progress
Over the past decade, two significant crises—a global recession and a pandemic—have hindered the economic outlook of young people. That has stalled the ability of millions of young people to access decent jobs, skills and housing and has resulted in a sharp increase in youth unemployment.
According to recent data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, young people are two and a half times more likely to be unemployed than other age cohorts. They are also more likely to work in insecure jobs and face higher risks of living in extreme poverty. Current risks such as climate change and rising displacement will worsen these trends.
Hashim Alsharif Alzaabi is an entrepreneur accelerating re-skilling in the United Arab Emirates. He suggests, “A key to rebuilding trust in talent and job markets is fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptability, ensuring young people are not merely prepared for today’s jobs but equipped with the necessary skills to thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of tomorrow. We must acknowledge technology’s transformative power, re-evaluate traditional education’s role and embrace targeted, high-quality learning approaches to increase youth employability worldwide.”
Like Alzaabi many changemakers in Davos will focus their advocacy on expanding economic access and job opportunities for the next generation. Deveney Smith is transforming leadership pipelines for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) talent in Washington DC in the United States, Olajumoke Adekeye is bridging the 21st century skills gap to accelerate youth employment in Nigeria, and Islam Iqbal is a young leader whose decade-long work uplifted thousands of Afghan youth through education opportunities, including a large number of women leaders.
As Iqbal outlines, “In conflicts, next to existential threats, young people face challenges in accessing employment, education and healthcare. Yet, the skillset they bring most often are unique. To leave no one behind, young migrants, refugees and internally displaced people must be provided opportunities to recraft their lives with dignity, contribute to the economy and have the chance to lift up others left behind. We must stand united in our call for peace, security and the full protection of youth in conflict zones.”
Iqbal left Afghanistan hours before the Taliban takeover and has relocated to Canada. He remains committed to amproving access to opportunities for education, employment and employability of Afghan refugees worldwide.
Ensuring inclusive governance and cooperation
Young people remain nearly invisible when it comes to participation in public decision-making. Despite half of the world’s population being under 30, only 2.6% of parliamentarians globally fall within this age group. Young people want decision-making bodies to represent the diversity of the people they seek to serve and commit to inclusive, citizen-centred policy design.
Reed Shafer-Ray is the founder and CEO of Mountaintop, a non-profit building community self-reliance and strengthening local institutions. Reed advocates that “We must reserve government and board seats for youth. Gender quota laws in 132 countries improved government responsiveness to female citizens, increased the educational outcomes of girls and fuelled investments in public goods favoured by women. Similarly, youth parliamentary quotas have been implemented in nine African and Asian countries. Without such reservations, qualified young leaders will struggle to compete. We must experiment and refine youth quotas to empower the next generation and achieve better outcomes for all.”
Lynn Malkawi founded Wasel, a social enterprise strengthening civic education in Jordan. She adds, “If we are to rebuild trust, governments must use technology to engage youth on the issues that matter to them most. Young people must be informed of national strategies and leaders must foster democracy, be transparent about trade-offs and build systems of accountability. Youth want open governance with information shared willingly and proactively.”
According to Malkawi, “This will help to create a culture of collaboration and innovation, and if matched with concrete action, societies can increase civic engagement and restore trust in government.”
Today’s biggest challenges call for the diverse perspectives, innovative thinking and commitment that impassioned young minds bring. Organizations have access to resources that can unlock this potential at a time when young people—and our future—need it most.
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