One Young World: making young people the engine for change

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Kate Robertson et David Jones

Back in 2009, Kate Robertson and David Jones, former Chairman and Global CEO of Havas respectively, founded One Young World, an annual summit for young leaders from around the world. We caught up with Kate ahead of this year’s event, which is due to be held in Bogotá, Colombia, from 4 to 7 October 2017, and talked with her about One Young World and her deeply-held belief that young people can build a new world.

One Young World puts young people on top

One Young World is a gathering unlike any other. Nicknamed “Young Davos”, the summit, which has been running for almost a decade now, brings together several thousand people every year in a different world capital to talk about today’s most pressing issues, from peace to climate change and sustainable development. One Young World’s strength flows from the fact that it puts young people front and centre. “Behind every big change, there is an outstanding leader. And today’s young people are best placed to become those leaders”, claims Kate.

She offers several explanations to back this up. For one thing, young people enjoy higher levels of education and information than their elders. “This is the most informed generation in history: with a couple of clicks, they can research, check, compare and get additional information on anything they want. They are all aware of the challenges and do not shy away from fundamental truths such as global warming.” What’s more, with social media they can mobilise quickly and on a massive scale. “The internet is breaking down borders and enabling planet-wide solutions to be established swiftly by facilitating contact and supporting ongoing dialogue. This is an opportunity that we never had at their age and they totally embrace it”, says Kate. Most important of all, however, she points to the optimism that she sees in young people. “This generation has the time and the drive to redraw the lines. Unlike their elders, who are often held back by fear of failure or the lure of their comfort zone and who tend to tell themselves that some problems can never be solved, young people are idealists and ready to take risks.” Says Kate: “This incredible energy is vital if they are going to tackle today’s huge challenges”.

Major companies, NGOs, entrepreneurs and politicians… Getting everyone together in the same room

When it comes to getting to grips with pressing issues such as financial crises, artificial intelligence global warming and migration flows, Kate’s main aim is to bring everyone into the conversation. “Recent decades have made it clear that the silo approach doesn’t work. Everyone has to work together to tackle today’s crises”, she argues.

With this in mind, One Young World puts the emphasis on diversity. Every year, the summit gathers more than 1200 delegates aged 15-30 representing every single country in the world and with all sorts of backgrounds. “Participants include members of NGOs, employees of major corporations, independent delegates, entrepreneurs and representatives from the world of education. We get the whole world together in one room”, says Kate. For two days, the future leaders debate, mingle and get inspired while rubbing shoulders with special guests, including the likes of Kofi Annan, Mohammed Junus and Mary Robinson. The idea is to give them unique opportunities by putting them in contact with sectors that they are usually sidelined from. “Most forums tend to be for a single category of people who are looking for solutions within their own group while pursuing different interests, which can be counterproductive. One Young World is special because we bring together leaders from far and wide with the drive and resources to collaborate. For a day, everyone acts as though they were part of one big family, which opens up new perspectives”, explains Kate. Among the represented sectors, major companies have a big role to play. “While NGOs generally have the best intentions, large groups have the deepest resources and greatest ability to take action. Ultimately, they are the ones that can make a difference.” Accordingly, One Young World sends out invitations to major multinational firms, more and more of which are attending every year. Participating firms include Google, Unilever, Telefonica, Facebook, L’Oréal, BNP Paribas and Danone, and employees of these businesses now make up between 60% and 65% of the delegates.

A commitment to support young people through monitoring, promotion and long-run support

One Young World’s work goes beyond staging the annual summit. To help young people grow their projects, Kate and her teams provide support over the long run. “Success depends entirely on them, but we try to help as much as we can by promoting their work, getting them into networks and providing new opportunities”, she says.

On the promotion side, a One Young World team keeps regular tabs on headway in projects and acts as the link to the media where needed. “Getting media attention can be very motivating, so we are constantly in touch with teams to know where they are at and what they have achieved, and we regularly promote them on social media”, says Kate. One Young World also leverages its network to put teams in touch with other companies, sponsors and sector experts, who can talk with them and help them move forwards. Illustrating this kind of connection, the Shiffon Startup Competition was recently opened up to One Young World ambassadors. Kate explains: “The competition asks participants to think about initiatives that will improve the situation of women and empower them. Winners get a $5,000 cheque plus mentorship, which is critical to a successful project”.

“Everyone needs to be involved if we are going to change the world!”

Eight years after founding One Young World, Kate can look back with satisfaction at the road travelled so far. Every year, the forum brings together more and more big-name speakers and world-renowned corporations and NGOs. “We beat our attendance record this year, with 120 major groups represented and over 1,300 delegates from 200 different countries. And everyone is even more determined and inspired than last year!” says Kate. She is especially proud of the loyalty shown by major corporate groups over the years. “Big companies are in the business of business, not charity. Their ongoing involvement is a stamp of quality that proves we are heading in the right direction.”

When asked about the coming challenges, Kate replies: “I’d be really happy to see our ambassadors start to take on leadership roles within their organisations. And of course we want to attract even more leaders from all over the world. Kofi Annan once said that everybody needs to be involved if we want to build the world of tomorrow. That is exactly what we are trying to do”.

Human capital | October 2017