Ten years ago, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street made the world wake up to the increasing generational divide and the power of youth activism. Now, a decade later, as young people face the worst of the world’s increasing socio-political and environmental crises, they are again inspiring change and taking action.
Tired of accusations of young people being the problem, they are determined to be the solution. They’re demanding that world leaders and businesses increase equity, protect our planet, and ensure that no one is left behind. And they’re taking the lead in providing the ideas, innovations and initiatives to do so.
Lessons from youth activists
I have had the chance to be part of different movements and organizations for the past 20 years, working together with my peers to give young people a seat at the table and make sure that their voices are heard.
It all started in my alma mater when I was given a voice in organizing a student trip. Who would have thought that a simple gesture of encouraging a shy and introverted student to share his input might lead him to become an engaged and committed servant leader? I learned then that not dismissing any opinion or person is a very powerful and simple gesture that we can all do in our daily lives.
I’ve also seen how young people mature in dealing with complex issues and bringing previously taboo topics into the scene. It’s an important lesson for leaders that they should not shy from any taboo topic – there are no taboo topics, only taboo way of addressing them.
Now more than ever, the world needs young people to step up to address the many other challenges ahead of us. But hurdles remain. While the last decade saw the power of youth activism to highlight and uproot systemic problems, it also showed that young people face challenges of experience and credibility.
To help young people around the world overcome these challenges, the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community, a network of more than 14,000 young people working together as teams to change their local realities, launched a Millennial Manifesto as part of the “Davos Lab: Youth Recovery Plan” report to provide timeless principles to sharpen and elevate youth activism.
The resulting document is a courageous and bold guide from a generation that doesn’t hesitate to act and that welcomes inclusive dialogues. Building on a decade of experience and learning, it captures our vision for the future and the steps that our generation and the next generation must take to leave behind a world better than the one we inherited.
Our commitment to creating positive change:
1. We will create space for intergenerational dialogue.
We will listen and learn from one another – past, present and future. We will respect the global context and that all parts of the world co-exist. We will share learnings to avoid replication. We will test, iterate and improve our approach to become better leaders and ancestors.
2. We will ask big questions to advance bold solutions.
We will take time to learn why structures are the way they are and to know our communities’ histories, before we take action. We will recognize that co-creation begins with consultation to understand systems. We will make decision-making information accessible to be truly inclusive.
3. We will pursue systems change and collective action.
We will build bridges within and across communities to strengthen the structures that work and dismantle those that don’t. We will set ambitious goals and move from talk to action. We will focus on local changes that can lead to global transformations and celebrate our progress.
4. We will make space for diverse lived experiences.
We will build authentic relationships with communities most impacted by inequities and injustices. We will acknowledge why we care about issues and who we are in relationship to them. We will join forces, share power and make decisions in open and transparent ways.
5. We will embrace uncomfortable conversations.
We will surrender our privilege and give everyone a seat at the table. We will engage to listen, understand and co-create solutions. We will create brave spaces for ideas to be heard, questioned and challenged. We will recognize the complex intersectionality of social change.
6. We will care for ourselves, others and our ecosystem.
We will be kind and considerate. We will practice self- and community-care. We will safeguard mental health and well-being. We will find balance between patience and impatience. We will be authentic, vulnerable and radically inclusive. We will protect our planet and common future.
It’s crucial to engage young people in decision-making, and it’s even more important for young people to think differently about how they want to engage. Dialogue, system change, collective intelligence, diversity and learning from the past are necessary steps for youth activism in the future. This Millennial Manifesto is our pledge to improving the state of the world.