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We delve into Youth Perspectives issues.
A Youthful take on the Future of Politics
Social protest movements have made clear that more diversity is needed in political decision-making.
The current generation of young people has already endured two global shocks over a relatively brief span - one financial crisis, and one pandemic. According to the young people surveyed as part of The Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan report published in 2021, there are real concerns about “stale political leadership” among those who want to retain faith in existing political systems. Many are calling on philanthropic donors to invest more in programs that help young progressives join governments and make policy.
They also want to minimize the spread of misinformation in order to help reinvigorate political leadership. Other findings from the report: young people want stronger protection of democratic freedoms through laws preventing media monopolies, only about 28% of those surveyed had voted, and less than 6% of those who participated in dialogue sessions had run for office. Many said they would rather volunteer, suggesting a level of disconnection from and distrust in political systems.
As the world changes and aspirations and values evolve, it is imperative that this demographic be more readily given a seat at the decision-making table.
If they could choose where to engage for political impact, the largest percentage of survey respondents said they would do so by starting or volunteering for a not-for-profit local organization (16%), followed closely by starting or becoming part of a social enterprise (15.8%) and working for an international organization (14.5%).
As the UN Secretary General said in early 2021, young people must be the “designers of their own future,” and not just “recipients of decisions of elders who have, let’s be honest, failed them in so many key respects.”
Asked to describe the core competencies for a political leader of the future, the largest percentage (42.8%) selected “demonstrates responsible and sustainable leadership,” followed by “represents and/or embraces diversity and inclusion” (23.3%).
Participants in the Youth Recovery Plan report overwhelmingly believe that the active pursuit of greater inclusion and diversity is necessary for politics to be truly representative; in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests and other social movements that spread in 2020, it is clear that a more diverse mix of young people must now be empowered.
Opinions on Digital Access and Safeguards
Young people believe internet access is a fundamental human right, but more must be done to tackle misinformation
Young people around the world have embraced their new digital reality, but they also believe it is crucial that this transformation has the proper safeguards in place to ensure it is as inclusive as possible. COVID-19 triggered a spike in internet use, as classrooms and offices shifted into virtual spaces. While this brought with it opportunities, it also exposed long-standing digital divides.
Two-thirds of the world’s school-age children do not have an internet connection in their homes, and only about half of the global population has internet access. For children in need of fundamental 21st-century skills, this is unacceptable. 89% of the young people surveyed as part of The Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan report published in 2021 believe digital access should be a fundamental human right. The largest percentage (27.2%) believe governments are the most important stakeholders when it comes to improving digital access, followed by telecom businesses (18.9%) and the manufacturers of electronics like phones (15.8%). Some specific recommendations made by young people and reflected in the report include offering more affordable data plans and sanctioning those responsible for internet shutdowns.
However, increasing connectivity brings with it a need for more safeguards and greater resilience. While online spaces have brought people together in unprecedented ways and given a voice to many, without adequate education and protections misinformation is liable to polarize societies and provide a means for radicalizing and exploiting the vulnerable - particularly those who feel unheard.
Young people surveyed as part of the Youth Recovery Plan report and in dialogue sessions held around the world argued in favour of a code of conduct to protect the vulnerable from the negative impacts of fake news, and help them discern fact from fiction online. A reconsideration of online content moderation is necessary, these young people said, not least due to the COVID-19 crisis and a related disintegration of trust in global governance - and due to the worsening of political partisanship and the resulting creation of digital echo chambers. The Youth Recovery Plan calls on tech companies to be more transparent about the spread of misinformation - and the young people surveyed as part of the report expect these companies to be held accountable.
Speaking up about Public and Mental Health
Leading the Way to Net Zero
The Youth Recovery Plan report calls for universal access to mental health services.
For young people, COVID-19’s devastating toll has been a call to action - to reimagine healthcare systems that are more equitable, accessible, and focused on mental health issues. Governments around the world have struggled to ensure equitable healthcare during the pandemic, and fair access to vaccines. This has worsened socio-economic divides and created unnecessary political fallout, while disproportionately impacting the most vulnerable. Young people believe now is the time for a new social contract, and to push for universal healthcare, while shifting from a responsive “cure” model to a more preventative “care” model that is rooted in community and interdisciplinary alliances.
The Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan report, published in 2021, cites greater investment in digital healthcare as key to strengthening resilience, trust, and access. Other recommendations made in the Youth Recovery Plan report include increased transparency among international organizations, and clearer communication from both these organizations and national governments - in order to build trust and help tackle vaccine hesitancy (and other forms of reluctance to embrace public health measures). Young people see private-sector leadership and partnerships with community leaders as crucial in this regard.
Among Millennials and members of Gen Z, there is an increased awareness of the potentially negative impacts of poor mental health. The pandemic has shed further light on related problems, not least due to increased isolation during the health crisis and uncertainty about infection and the loss of loved ones. 98% of the young people surveyed as part of the Youth Recovery Plan report consider access to mental health services a human right - though many people are denied help due to financial reasons, a lack of awareness of available services, and pervasive stigma.
The work and social pressures that have become a part of modern lifestyles have put young people at disproportionate risk, though there are opportunities to help promote healthier workplaces - for example, by embracing hybrid work, which can help reduce burnout and increase performance. Greater investments can also be made in early-childhood education about mental health. In addition to universal access to mental health care, the Youth Recovery Plan report calls for media and educational institutions to help destigmatize mental health treatment and do away with the misconceptions that perpetuate it.
Young people want to support politicians committed to climate action and actively curbing climate misinformation
The perspectives young people bring to the issue of climate change have never been more important - or more widely publicized. According to a report published by UNICEF in 2021, nearly half the world’s children live in conditions made more perilous by the climate crisis. Climate mitigation efforts have therefore never been more important - and the role played by young people will be crucial. Since the 2015 COP21 climate conference in Paris, students around the world have been skipping school to call attention to the climate crisis as part of a global movement dubbed Fridays for Future.
The Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan report published in 2021 surveyed young people about their views on getting the planet to net zero emissions, and they said governments must lead the way - and must place climate action at the heart of pandemic recovery efforts by expanding the use of sustainable energy. Nearly half of respondents said they “strongly agree” with the idea that their government should make accelerating climate action a key goal of the recovery, and less than 17% were either neutral or disagreed.
Nearly 75% of respondents said they would vote for politicians who are committed to climate action - and less than 5% disagreed with that idea. The young people whose views informed the report believe economic activity must be targeted in ways that accelerate climate action; nearly 69% of the survey respondents agreed with the idea that banks should stop supporting fossil fuel expansion through their lending and financial services, and just 6.6% disagreed with that notion.
In dozens of dialogue sessions conducted for the report in more than 30 different cities, young people said that regardless of opposition from the fossil fuel industry, achieving a net-zero world will require bold change. Rapidly-growing megacities require greater investment in public transportation systems, for example, and emissions must be cut rather than simply offset. Other recommendations made via the report include implementing effective regulations that can curb climate misinformation and anti-climate lobbying, immediately halting all new coal, oil, and gas exploration and development, and supporting lower-income countries as they seek to transition away from fossil fuels while at the same time expanding basic energy access for their populations.
Young People and Work
According to the Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan published in 2021, the pandemic has resulted in a far more organized generation of young consumers and investors who are rallying behind efforts to achieve climate and social justice.
According to the results of a survey conducted in 187 countries included in the report, young people want policy-makers to incentivize sustainable consumption - and penalize production that’s not. They also want both investors to work together with consumer groups to change the ways big business operates, and real corporate accountability (including in terms of executive compensation) when it comes to hitting ESG (environmental, social, and corporate governance) targets. The factors most important to these young people when they buy something - following price - are the labor standards for workers providing the product or service (15.1%), the carbon footprint involved in production (12.1%), and the transparency of sustainability reporting at the business selling it (8.6%). They also said the stakeholders most important for increasing the availability of sustainable products are governments and international bodies (36.9%), and individual consumers (18.8%).
Young people are coveted consumers and have the power to exert a positive influence.
The places we choose to live and work, the ways we opt to commute, and just about all the other ways that we elect to spend our money, time, and energy are potentially resource-intensive. Young people - in particular, 18- to 24-year-olds - can have a significant influence on consumer markets by elevating the general awareness of how economic behavior impacts the planet. And while COVID-19 has been disruptive in many ways, it has only accelerated this sort of conscious consumerism. Collectively, young people with purchasing power have a great deal of influence - and can use it to accelerate the global transition to a more sustainable, circular economy.
In some cases, their focus will be on what they purchase (and invest in) directly as a means to enable corporate climate action, while in others they will concentrate their efforts on publicly demanding greater business transparency and the decarbonization of supply chains - while lobbying governments to implement related policies and regulations. Regardless of their approach, they must combine forces with all stakeholders if they want to effect real change.
Pandemic-related job losses have disproportionately impacted young people
People born between 1990 and 2005 have already experienced a global financial crisis that resulted in mass unemployment, and a global pandemic that in many ways had a similar impact on livelihoods. Many of these young people have actually been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19-related job losses - global youth employment fell by nearly 9% in 2020 compared with the previous year, while adult employment fell by just 3.7%.
According to the International Labour Organization, many young people will continue to be impacted for decades unless more is done to help them. Young people also face a disproportionate impact in terms of the inevitable rise of automation and artificial intelligence. To hear directly from young people about the world of work they want for themselves, the results of a survey conducted in more than 180 countries were compiled in The Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan report. Asked how confident they are that their current skills are sufficient to guarantee them a dignified job for the next five to 10 years, 37% said they are “mostly” confident, and just 16% said they are “fully” confident.
23% of respondents said pay is the most important aspect they look at when searching for a job, but following close behind (at 15%) was the ability to have a societal impact. Their concerns are not simply material; if they had to pay for unexpected medical bills amounting to a month of their income, more than 16% said they’d go into debt and either wouldn’t be able to pay them off or would have to take on another job.
The WEF Future of Jobs Report published in 2020 estimates that 85 million jobs may be lost by the year 2025 due to a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines; the Youth Recovery Plan report recommends that governments respond to this by using tax incentives to encourage more private sector employers to reskill (and upskill) workers. A consolidation of worker power post-COVID-19 may also prompt a greater number of employers to try harder to attract young talent, according to the report. Meanwhile academic curricula can be updated to better reflect employers’ needs and ensure that young people are properly prepared.
Next Generation ESG
Young People and Public Safety
Young people believe companies should be held accountable for their environmental, social, and governance standards
The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a new generation of organized young voters, consumers, and investors who are eager to rally behind issues like climate action and social justice. This generation poses an existential threat to those institutions that seek to simply revert to business as usual post-pandemic - but they also represent a massive opportunity for other businesses (and governments) in search of a progressive mandate.
The Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan report published in 2021 reflects survey responses from millions of mostly young people, and dozens of related dialogue sessions - and points to a broad agreement that more inclusive, responsible business practices are essential. More than half of the respondents “strongly” agree with the idea that all private-sector organizations should be held accountable for their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards of ethics (in addition to their technology standards of ethics) - and less than 2% disagree with this idea. When asked about the most prominent barriers that stand in the way of implementing more responsible business practices, the most popular response was, “It is less profitable to do so.”
However, young people believe companies that seek to embrace technology ethics through transparent and inclusive operations can differentiate themselves from competitors - and draw in greater amounts of revenue and users as a result. Establishing effective governance frameworks and implementing a true stakeholder capitalism model (meaning a model that is focused on far more than just the bottom line) in order to mitigate the risk of technology-related ethical lapses and misuse are more important than ever.
When young survey respondents and dialogue session participants were asked what big idea can be put forward to help make next-generation ESG a reality, and genuinely impact the way corporations do business, they recommended compiling global best practices and proven effective regulations. These can then be pooled into a robust knowledge base and disseminated to the incubators, accelerator programs, and private equity firms that are tasked with forming, guiding, and investing in the next generation of companies. Meanwhile, as universities develop the next generation of leaders, according to the Youth Recovery Plan report, they should ensure that ESG literacy and an understanding of ethics are central to their business- and technology-related instruction.
Young activists have been the targets of government crackdowns and surveillance.
Young people around the world, particularly young women, members of LGBTI communities, and people of colour, generally do not feel safe. According to the Davos Lab Youth Recovery Plan report published in 2021, increased racial, ethnic, and religious violence, and concerns about the growing misuse of digital surveillance tools (including those deployed to combat COVID-19) are behind this shared sentiment. In addition, government crackdowns on young people for advocating for more inclusive policies in certain parts of the world have further alienated many.
The Youth Recovery Plan report collected survey responses in more than 180 countries; respondents said physical safety is the cause for most concern, followed distantly by “economic” safety. Most said the space they feel safest in is home, and only 5.9% chose “the internet.” Just 9.1% said they feel “most safe” in public spaces, and 6.5% said they feel “least safe” there. This hints at a potential problem, if heavy-handed policing (often based on racial or ethnic lines) leads to a situation where full participation in society is reserved only for people born into the “right” race or sexual orientation.
The grim findings reflected in the report call for reforms that help ensure more of the young people who make up the biggest age demographic in the world can feel safe outside of their own homes. Some of the recommendations made in the report include crackdowns on the firearms that are the weapon of choice for committing violence in countries such as El Salvador and Brazil - in particular on “ghost guns,” which are unmarked and ready-to-assemble weapons that can be purchased as untraceable kits. Other recommendations include ending qualified immunity for police officers (in the US state of Texas, for example, 99% of the officers responsible for the killing of a member of the public between 2013 and 2019 were not charged with a crime) and ending both militarized policing and the abusive use of surveillance technology against activists and peaceful protestors.
Ultimately, the public and private sectors must work together with civil society organizations to find ways to provide better training for police officers - including instruction on non-violent communication and ways to provide ready access to mental health services.
COVID-19 has exposed systemic flaws around the world, making it our collective duty to envision and pursue a recovery that is more inclusive. The Global Shapers Community’s Davos Lab is a post-pandemic recovery initiative for young global leaders in the public, private, and non-profit sectors seeking out new ways to rebuild after one of the biggest public health crises in history - with a particular focus on addressing climate change and social justice issues. Its plans for a youth-driven recovery to reset economic, social, and environmental systems have been crowdsourced via dialogue sessions and surveys conducted in more than 180 countries, all in the spirit of inter-generational allyship.