Young people by definition have the most at stake in the future. But in Europe as elsewhere, Millennials are all too often failing to vote. As crunch European Parliament elections approach on May 23-26, the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers community of young leaders are turning to new ideas to lure their peers to the ballot box.
“The thing about politics, for all ages but especially for those who have the majority of their lives ahead of them, is, whether you chose to participate or not, it will impact you and what kind of life you are able to live,” said Sabina Ciofu, 30, a Global Shaper in the Brussels Hub. “How the European project will look and whether it will continue to ensure the basic freedoms and opportunities we currently enjoy are on the line.”
One idea is the VoteSwiper App, a project out of the Munich Hub created to share information about the election and help people make informed decisions. Raising awareness about the parties and the issues is especially relevant to an election with more than 5,000 candidates from about 400 parties.
In the VoteSwiper app, users answer questions about current topics, and then the app matches them with the party that best fits their positions. The app, which had previously been deployed ahead of the German national election, saw 1 million swipes in one day and ranked number 1 in the education category of the Apple App Store in Germany. It has since launched in Austria, Finland and Sweden, with plans to go live in 11 more countries.
“We hope to see millions of Europeans getting informed about their choices before this crucial election,” said Akil Logeswaran, 30, a Global Shaper from the Munich Hub and Project Lead for VoteSwiper. “Once people are informed and play the app like a game, we are convinced that tens of thousands of them will show up in higher numbers to vote for their preferred choice.”
If the youth vote materializes, it has an opportunity to make a bigger difference this year compared to past elections. In the 2014 Parliament elections, which had record low turnout, only 28% of the voters in the 18-24 age group voted, compared to about 51% in the 55+ group.
This year, facing pressing global changes including technological developments and the rise of populism and nationalism, it is more important than ever for young people to show up to the polls in force, Ciofu said.
Since January, the Brussels Hub, together with other European hubs, has run a social and video media campaign focused on the issues that young people care about, including climate change, education and unemployment. They are also organizing debates with young voters and a WhatsApp campaign for the election to encourage people to vote.
“Young people are fully aware of their power and also of just how crucial this election is,” Ciofu said. “My personal hope is that so many young people will show up this time around that we’ll finally be able to shut up those who say, 'the youth don’t care.' We care, we matter, and we’ll show that.”
Young people are also pushing back against the growing threat of polarization and seeking content that challenges, rather than confirms to, their views. The Global Shaper community recently brought together a group of Shapers in Vienna to create and distribute educational videos about the risks of filter bubbles, personalized online echo chambers that occur when algorithms surface content aligned with a user’s online preferences and actions, making it difficult to be exposed to different opinions.
“We hope to bring our society closer together by encouraging citizens to build understanding for different opinions before as well as after they vote,” said Francis Rafal, 27, a Global Shaper in the Vienna Hub. “Thinking long-term, we hope that a less polarized society finds better solutions to today’s problems.”
What is a Global Shaper?
The Global Shapers Community is a network of young people under the age of 30 who are working together to drive dialogue, action and change to address local, regional and global challenges.
The community spans more than 8,000 young people in 165 countries and territories.
Teams of Shapers form hubs in cities where they self-organize to create projects that address the needs of their community. The focus of the projects are wide-ranging, from responding to disasters and combating poverty, to fighting climate change and building inclusive communities.
Examples of projects include Water for Life, a effort by the Cartagena Hub that provides families with water filters that remove biological toxins from the water supply and combat preventable diseases in the region, and Creativity Lab from the Yerevan Hub, which features activities for children ages 7 to 9 to boost creative thinking.
Each Shaper also commits personally and professionally to take action to preserve our planet.
But no matter how young people decide to vote, the most important thing is that they do, Logeswaran said.
“For too long we have let older generations decide about our future,” Logeswaran said. “I don't let my parents decide which playlists I should listen to, why should they decide about my future? It's completely up to us to change how we want to live, and that is why it is important to show up and vote!”