Could young people be the immune system of the world?

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The complexity of the world and its resultant problems should leave every responsible citizen with some thoughts and concerns to chew on. With all the AID packages, bank and government bail-outs, food and health programmes, we need to stop and ask if this is right – will doing more of the same, decade in and decade out, bring about a better world?

The World Economic Forum (the Forum) is recognized as one of the foremost platforms to gather top business, political, academic and other leaders to debate and evolve regional and global agendas. Just over a year ago, its leaders sat back and wondered how to do things differently. There was also the reality that 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 27, which will most certainly alter the way the world will work and develop in the future as this generation matures. In order to engage this populace and bring them to the table, the ‘Global Shapers’ network of 20-something’s was established and today includes 1,588 extraordinary young people from over 168 cities around the world.

The ambition is to purposefully engage the youth generation at all levels – locally, regionally, nationally and globally – so they are part of the contribution to ‘improving the state of the world’ instead of being passive recipients of ‘what the adults decide’. Judging from the remarkable growth in just over a year from zero to 1 588 Global Shapers, truly spread across the world (and not just the predictable cities), there is much weight and support behind the effort. Over 70 of the Global Shapers were invited to the highly prestigious Annual Meeting in Davos earlier this year (January), with further groups attending regional events for Africa, China, and the Middle East. Notably, it’s not just about attendance as Global Shapers are on major panel discussions actively participating alongside veteran industry leaders.

Having just returned from the inaugural Annual Curators’ Meeting, which brought together the heads of the 168 Global Shaper hubs, I can unreservedly state the Forum has sought widely, thoroughly and to a bar of extreme excellence for this network.

In my experience, ‘global gatherings’ are typically heavily weighted or biased towards a certain grouping – whether it’s either a strong American or British contingent or in African gatherings either clearly Anglophone or Francophone.  Living at the bottom tip of Africa, this cosmopolitan and afro-politan mix was a watershed experience. I had not fully understood the purpose of it before, of convening, networking and providing resources for this huge group of young people. I have now personally experienced and witnessed how one’s own approach to the world, and how you see yourself in it, irrevocably changes when you break bread with other like-minded individuals. Sudan, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, The Central African Republic, Niger, Kuwait, Indonesia, Panama, Georgia, Ukraine and Suriname are no longer purple, orange and pink coloured spots on the World Atlas – I have a face, I have shared values, I know someone just like me.

Young people have been self-organizing for a long time already without the official rubber stamp from the adults That cornerstone organizations are transforming themselves to access a wider contribution however, is a significant and new step in the right direction.

As an internet and technology entrepreneur, I have always been in awe of the potential for the internet and mobile technology to change how we do things and empower a wider spectrum of people, from the bottom up and how it can influence the approach with which we choose to address vital global challenges that need to happen. By evolve, I do not mean that we try to come up with smarter ideas. It requires a departure from the notion that a few good-intentioned people can cater better for a group of people than those people can do for themselves, if empowered to do so. The world needs a model that recognizes that sustainable progress and optimum results can only be obtained when everyone is in a position to play their part and be active contributors of their world.

The growth of social networks, mobile and internet connectivity that is spurring the Arab Springs and wider access to educational, entrepreneurial, job and health information and services, is building the momentum for changes from the bottom up. Efforts by organizations like the the Forum to meaningfully engage a wider audience are significant and important steps to cultivate change in how we do things from the top, down.

We understand less than 10% of the human immune system, yet we place great reliance on it. But in the absence of perfect information, we continue to bolster our immune system with the things common sense suggests are right. Apply this to the youth element, who with its naiveté and inexperience, countered by its energy and ‘do now’ attitude, has a potential impact that is hard to predict exactly, but which will undoubtedly have far reaching consequences and common sense suggests is the right way to go.

This article originally appeared on News24 Voices

Rapelang Rabana is an internet & technology entrepreneur and was the founding CEO of the pioneering Technology Top 100 company, Yeigo Communications in South Africa. She is a Global Shaper from the Capetown Hub.

Photo Credit: Enrique Pardo

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