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Entrust Youth With A Seat At The Decision-Making Table

01/11/2017 01:31 EST | Updated 01/11/2017 01:36 EST

young workers

(Photo: Hinterhaus Productions via Getty Images)

Our world is in dire need of a new wave of charismatic leadership that can curb bureaucratic deadlock, the spectre of populism and the rise of nationalism.

In the final countdown for the 2017 Davos meeting, we ought to remind ourselves that free, democratic institutions rely on the glue of trust. There has to be a rock-solid belief that the transaction between voters and elected officials, or consumers and businesses, rests on something deep and sacred. Without it, leadership can be neither responsive nor responsible.

Generations do not trust each other. Older generations do not trust the youth with leadership, and younger generations do not trust leadership structures monopolized by the elders. The current generation of senior leadership is unresponsive for its failure to listen to us youth, and irresponsible for its failure to include us.

Inter-generational trust: the barriers and the potential

The broken inter-generational trust of unresponsive and irresponsible leadership is evident in most institutions in all three sectors.

In the political and public sectors, youth still face archaic restrictions that prevent us from assuming responsibility for our own future.

Young adults can bring a more inclusive, collaborative and consensus-building approach to politics.

Today's generation of young people is the largest the world has ever known. Although 51 per cent of the world's population is under 30 years old, only two per cent of the world's Members of Parliaments are under 30, and although young people have the right to vote, 73 per cent of countries restrict young adults from running for houses of parliament.

In fact, research suggests that the most difficult step for new candidates willing to stand for election is their party's nomination process for a place on the ballot. The reason, however, for including young adults in debates and decision-making extends well beyond the demographic segment's clear stake in the solutions.

Young adults have values, skills and an impact-driven sense of mission that differs from older generations. They are socially conscious, they believe in government, they are highly educated digital natives and they are focused on shared prosperity. As a result, young adults can bring a more inclusive, collaborative and consensus-building approach to politics and representation.

board of directors

(Photo: Solstock via Getty Images)

In the private sector, the average age on the board directors of S&P500 companies is 63 years old (with an upward trend), and less than one per cent of them under the age of 40. Though there has been plenty of conversation and action on diversifying board memberships by professional backgrounds and expertise, nobody is considering including a youth member that would represent and convey better the traits and needs of their young consumers, the largest target demographic of many of these companies.

While the current generation of senior age dominated leadership shows pity for how we will combat the rise of youth unemployment believing that technology replaces and threatens people, we the youth believe that technology is powered by people and empowers people. Young entrepreneurs are already using technology to disrupt rigid employment and income generation, creating the sharing economy of flexible jobs in ride-sharing (e.g. Uber) or even asset-sharing (e.g. Airbnb).

The need for change is increasingly imminent.

In the non-profit sector, youth membership on boards is rare and merely symbolic when existent. The reason lies on the fact that board members of major non-profits are usually the highest donors rather than representatives of the organization's target demographic. The need for change, however, is increasingly imminent.

The most widely recognized symbols of social impact activism are being passed from the older and seasoned within the industry to younger and digitally empowered generations, such as from Mother Teresa to Malala Yousafzai. Inevitably, non-profit organizations that gravitate significant philanthropic dollars will soon have to revolve their leadership's branding around younger social change-makers.

This representational disparity, in all three sectors, defines current leadership structures as inherently unresponsive and irresponsible to their largest demographic of stakeholders: youth.

The need to champion young responsive and responsible leaders

Our youth generation is already priming itself for a new wave of leadership. It has low-cost access to higher education knowledge from the world's best universities through MOOCs; it develops tacit technical skills that build and grow multibillion-dollar technology companies; it has a better understanding of complex (and otherwise divisive) policy issues; and diffuses its energy to peacefully mobilize its communities.

But most impressively, many young people now blend (or juggle) their work in all three sectors together, and develop into tri-sector leaders. This allows them to create a capacity to balance competing motives, develop contextual intelligence, and build integrated networks.

davos youth

H.M. Queen Rania addresses the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Youth and Entrepreneurship May 21, 2005. (Photo: Salah Malkawi/Getty Images)

Over the last four years, I have seen young people crowding international policy-making spaces, whose occupancy was previously monopolized by older generations of leaders. Despite it being a Herculean task at times, youth delegations managed to get accreditation and permission to participate in summits such the G20/G7, OECD and IMF annual meetings, or the COP21 during the historical climate deal signing.

Attending these summits, young people crafted unimaginably creative ways of reaching to senior politicians, civil service policy directors and multi-national business stakeholders to relay their concerns. Recognizing this special catalytic role of youth, the former United Nations' Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated that "We have to put young people in influential positions," and previously introduced the position of UN Special Envoy for Youth, led by the young Ahmad Alhendawi.

The World Economic Forum, the most consequential convener of global leaders from all three sectors invites youth to their meetings. Acting on their commitments, the WEF initiated the Global Shapers and Young Global Leaders communities that have established impact-oriented networks of young developing political, business and non-profit leaders that achieve together what they previously could not in silos.

I have witnessed youth being responsive and responsible to their communities, and I can attest that they are ready to assume the responsibility for their future.

Trust now. Lead together now.

From climate change to public debt, it is the first time a young generation has established powerful consensus around inter-generational issues. Never before has a generation been so connected and self-organized, yet mired in such anguishing asymmetry with older generations of leadership and global decision-making.

The question remains: If so many young leaders are already responsive, responsible and also effective, why do senior leaders worldwide prevent them from joining them at the decision-making table?

We need the glue of trust on which Responsiveness and Responsibility rests on.

Fast-forward 15 years. Imagine our institutions governed by leaders who developed themselves by access to knowledge at digital speed, who rose to power by more transparent mechanisms, and who are in these capacities solely because of their aptitude of responsiveness and responsibility.

Our world's leadership structures are changing again. This time, however, it can be different. This time, we can choose to press the fast-forward button and plan for a smoother transition of power between generations of decision-makers.

To restore our young generation's faith in our world's leadership, we need the glue of trust on which Responsiveness and Responsibility rests on.

We have a unique opportunity to turn this conflict of ages into the opportunity of our age.

Your trust is all we need.

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