I spent two amazing days last week at The One Young World Summit in Johannesburg. I was invited as a counsellor - the only female on the team from Eastern Africa and rather than give, I learnt. The only way I get to give is to ensure that the presentations I heard, challenges posed and the solutions already being executed by these young people are shared.
There was a lot I wasn’t prepared for when it came to these young people. But whoever said this was a lost generation clearly has been focusing on the small percentage of wayward wrong doers. By and large this generation is not only truly global, but more articulate than their parents and also a lot more aware of the issues and the possible solutions than we give them credit for. I can choose to waste my time on the minority who deliberately go out of their way to be vacuous and brain-dead, or I can focus on the amazing percentage of young people who realise that the present is also their future and are determined to not just speak up, but also do something about the challenges they face.
Allow me to set the record straight on the delegates of One Young World – they are not members of a global talk-shop like so many of us adults are – they are doers. They are not tomorrow’s leaders – they are already leading. They meet once a year to talk about what they have been doing. My friends – they are acting, not talking about future plans.
My session was on Human Rights. It focused on Gender equality – how can the rhetoric be turned into reality. The young delegates spoke on and debated the universal nature of gender inequality. Argued for and against policies and programmes that effectively develop female leadership and even talked about and gave examples of the economic benefits of promoting education and employment of women.
I made it a point to sit through and take notes on the plenary sessions one education and how tomorrow’s skills be taught today.
The young people spoke and made presentations on the facilities and curriculum required to prepare children for work. This included ensuring all schools have access to internet and technology and the increasing importance of e-learning. How I wish our education ministry had been present for this session. Sigh.
My take from not just the presentations but from the work these young people were already doing (One Young World is about doers not talkers) is that contrary to the myth we have been sold and have perpetuated - this is not a lost generation – far, far from it and the sooner we stop selling them that line the better. Here’s what One Young World taught me:
This is a generation that will no longer take no for an answer. However, they will not sit around and wait for change, instead they are forcing change to happen and holding our governments, media, teachers, their parents and their peers accountable – it makes some people very uncomfortable.
I learnt from the young ladies from Turkey that they want to be recognised as leaders of today and not tomorrow. The young man from Kuwait made it clear that this generation wants to be recognised as equal stakeholders and they demand to be given the platform to have their voices heard so they can shape future policy. After all, tomorrow belongs to them and they want to be allowed to shape that future. They refuse to buy into the line that they will inherit this world from their parents of grandparents.
Listening to the young lady from Australia talking about gender equity at work, it was clear that this generation is not apathetic, we are far from it. They do care about the society they live in. As I sat and listened to the session on Youth Unemployment I learnt that the Millennial generation is not lost — just exposed. This generation is looking for more than just a job. To quote the lady from Mali - we want work that is meaningful”. It is this generation’s desire for meaningful work and their lack of interest in traditional career paths that makes them fast movers and that causes them to change jobs and careers at what is described as a whim.
A young man from Serbia said “The main employers face is retaining us, and the most likely reasons that they don’t is that the job or prospects for growth and advancement are minimal. Unlike previous generations, we don’t stay in a job because of a promise of being taken care of by a company by having a pension and retirement. We want much more”.
I left as Arianna Huffington of The Huffington Post talked about “The Third Metric”. She urged One Young World to redefine success beyond money and power and as the room engaged with her, I saw a generation that wanted to articulate what priorities were meaningful in the 21st century and were also committed to breaking the cycle of burnout. Every CEO needed to have been privy to this session.
Generation Y made me understand that they were not going to be doing crazy working hours like we do. Instead of working long hours to climb up the organisational ladder, they prefer flexible working schedules and a more rounded work and social balance. Don’t confuse that for laziness, far from it.
Here’s the gem and what I took away with me as I left for the airport dreaming about the cuddly place in my daughter’s neck where I love to bury my face: Generation Y and One Young World grew up with over worked parents who were largely absent due to work demands and this has driven their new perception to work. They want to see how they can best blend an enjoyable life with a fulfilling working environment.
Youth is the natural time for revolt, for experiment, for a generous idealism that is eager for action. Any civilisation which has the wisdom of self-preservation will allow a certain margin of freedom for the expression of this youthful mood. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, let’s take a moment to listen rather than stifle our youth into the acceptance of the status quo and worse still, its glorification. The future is here and the people who own it, want a hand in shaping it.
Here’s to you generation Y and to your future and most probably a better future for us all. One Young World showed me that you’re not a lost generation. Far far from it. However, even as you share pictures across twitter, whatsapp and Facebook and watch all the presentations on Youtube over and over again let the words of Sir Bob Geldoff be your daily, day-long war cry “get on with it!”