Young changemakers are using social networks to mobilize their peers. Image: REUTERS
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- Europe is perceived by too many as complex and divided.
- The fact is the region remains a major economic powerhouse.
- We can tackle Europe’s challenges by partnering with young people.
When I took on the leadership of P&G Europe, I heard the same negative sentence time and time again: “Europe is a complex region…” For P&G, this meant complexity in terms of markets, languages, legal systems, business operations, cultures, retailers, and so on.
My second observation was that a core obstacle to bringing people together is the generational divide between the young and the established. I have since made it my mission to renew confidence in P&G Europe through trans-generational collaboration. This article is my proposal to leaders to change the narrative and shape a new decade of positivity, sparking a second renaissance of Europe.
Europe is beautiful
Europe is big and beautiful. A continent with 750 million inhabitants, a cradle of history and culture, a place where humanity was cultivated, democracy invented, modern business developed, and which hosts more than half of the world’s UNESCO world heritage sites.
Europe is rich in everything a person could long for. However, Europe as a region is often perceived as complex. I do not see it that way. As a European business leader, I have been passionately committed to changing the mindset of the people in my company – to have a stronger business, driven by prouder, confident citizens. Now, I am calling on all of us to change the narrative for Europe as a whole.
European prosperity – threatened by confusion
The news about Europe is overwhelming negative. Heated talks about an ageing society, dwindling dynamics, communities quarreling about equality, sustainability, migration, identity, Brexit – all this makes Europe look like a weak player. This culminates in a generational divide where the young and the established have seemingly lost touch with each other.
I firmly dispute this notion. Europe matters more than people think. In terms of GDP, the European economy is the second biggest in the world ($18.7 trillion in 2018), significantly bigger than China ($13.6 trillion), and catching up with the US ($20.5 trillion).
In 2019, for the first time ever, the EU has been more innovative than the US. Acknowledging that the US and China are leading in research on AI, Europe has invested €1.5 billion in this area to gain a leadership position. Ordinary Europeans feel positive about Europe: in 2018, 60% of citizens believed that EU membership is a good thing. This is the highest score ever measured since 1983.
I am not saying there are no challenges. But I am saying that most can be solved through enhanced partnership. What must change is the narrative: From “Complex, old Europe” to “One beautiful and vibrant Europe”.
Europe the comeback-kid requires leadership and partnership
In our P&G HQ in Geneva we see productive collaboration between individuals from more than 60 nations, between the ages of 16 and 66. What drives this unity is respect, a common set of values that we all adopted (no one was born with those), and a positive world outlook.
The EU is very similar, just much bigger. As divided as it might look today, it is the biggest peace project the world has ever seen. And the public-private partnerships between businesses, the political sectors and civil society have allowed for the creation of the values that carry our European Community today.
By driving partnerships between established institutions and young players, Europe can soon re-emerge as a beautiful opportunity for all.
No renaissance without youth
Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship are heavily driven by the young. The world has changed through the emergence of social networks driven by young people, not by institutions; with the next generation of Europeans using these online networks to drive change.
Take the Fridays for Future Movement or the Global Citizens as examples. Young change makers use social networks to mobilize their peers at scale, meaning they do not need institutions in order to be heard.
My thinking is that we must create trans-generational partnerships to overcome existing frictions. So do not try to stop the youth mobilizing – enable them and win together.
At P&G, it is imperative that we work with young people to create solutions for the future. We have a principle that we call “Grow from Within”, we need talented young people. That is why we must also address the issues that most concern them.
1. The environmental debate: The next generation demands solutions from today’s leaders to protect our planet.
2. The inclusion debate: This is the first generation that largely questions the concept of social advancement through work.
3. The approach-to-work-debate: They are pushing business to create new value in a digitalized world.
We must make a step towards the young generation. There have been rebellions of the young in the past, but those who wanted to be successful still had to go through the institutions.
This new generation is different. They developed the means and have the confidence to create their own realities. My team and I started to create ways to partner with young people inside our organization: we are creating a Youth Board. This is a diverse body of young leaders under 30 that I meet regularly, as I do with my business leaders. I listen as they consult with me on technology, diversity and inclusion, and sustainability. This helps us overcome the generational divide and accelerate growth, in a sustainable and responsible way.
The keys to solving Europe’s challenges is to change the narrative and close the generational gap. I am a convinced European. Let’s create a new era of trans-generational partnerships to make Europe the best place to live and work for everyone.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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