Youth Perspectives

Top quotes from the young change-makers at Davos

greta thunberg young people davos 2020

Meet some of the young change-makers who attended Davos 2020. Image: REUTERS/WEF

Kate Whiting
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Teenagers from around the world were invited to the 50th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting to share their stories - and engage with leaders.
  • Greta Thunberg warned "our house is still on fire" and said young activists would not give up.
  • The youngest Davos delegate, Naomi Wadler, stood up against gun violence and race inequality - and wowed

They came, they spoke, they conquered hearts and minds.

For the first time ever, Davos opened its snow-flecked doors to teenage delegates fighting on the frontlines to secure a better future for the planet and its 7.7 billion people.

Here's what some of them told the world's leaders...

Greta Thunberg

The Swedish climate change activist needs no introduction.

She set the tone by demanding an immediate halt to investments to fossil fuel subsidies, exploration and extraction.

"We don’t want these things done by 2050, 2030 or even 2021, we want this done now.

Have you read?

"It may seem like we’re asking for a lot. And you will of course say that we are naïve. But this is just the very minimum amount of effort that is needed to start the rapid sustainable transition.

"So either you do this or you’re going to have to explain to your children why you are giving up on the 1.5-degree target.

"I’m here to tell you that unlike you, my generation will not give up without a fight...

"Our house is still on fire. Your inaction is fuelling the flames by the hour. We are still telling you to panic, and to act as if you loved your children above all else."

Naomi Wadler

The 13-year-old activist on gun violence and discrimination against African American girls was the youngest delegate at Davos this year. She joined on stage - and blew both him and the audience away.

She said: “We can educate our youth a lot better. We’re not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past.

“We need to immerse ourselves in the world of activism and diverse perspectives. If we only teach a child about one way to live, about the white scientists and the white politicians, they’re not going to grow up and respect the black ones...

"A lot of young people think they have no power, they can’t control what’s going on. We can choose who we want to elect and we can be the ones running for office. I want to see more action and less talking."

During a final session she said young activists needed to look after their mental health.

"A lot of activists are focused on saving the world and carrying that weight of responsibility on their backs, but we need to look at ourselves first - and make sure we're OK. We're not going to have the capacity to make the world a better place if we're not taking care of ourselves."

Mohamad Al Jounde

When he was 12, Mohamad escaped from Syria to Lebanon in 2013. After just six months, he worked with friends to set up a school for refugees, which has, since then, helped more than 7,000 pupils settle and integrate into their new country.


He urged everyone to think of all the world's problems, and not just focus on climate change.

"Climate change is an important issue, I recognize that. It's going to affect everyone and we need to work on it. But the problem is, if we focus on that specific issue and other issues like education, equality and health are forgotten, the rest of the world wouldn't be able to join the fight for climate change."

Gary Bencheghib
Gary Bencheghib, Founder, Make A Change World, Indonesia, speaking during the session Rising Up against Plastic Pollution  at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 22nd of January. Congress Centre - in Betazone Romm Copyright by World Economic Forum/Jakob Polacsek
Gary Bencheghib at Davos 2020 Image: World Economic Forum

Gary and his brother Sam, who grew up in Bali, have rowed on kayaks made from plastic bottles along some of the world's most polluted rivers to raise awareness of the ocean plastic problem.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

He said: "Since I started this talk, 200 metric tonnes of plastic pollution would have entered our ocean... There are 500 times more pieces of plastic in our ocean than there are stars in our galaxy.

"The truth is that there has never been a more important time to act than now."


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

Melati Wijsen

The 2020s have to be a decade of action, said Melati, who helped achieve a ban on plastic bags in Bali.


“We need to get out of our comfort zone, we have to act according to the Paris Agreement, without any loopholes for government. And for the private sector, dig deep into your pockets, into your budgets, so that you can wake up knowing that you did more than the standard operational procedures.”

In a session on breaking free from plastics, her words inspired former Vice-President Al Gore to shout, "Go girl!"

"Are we really doing enough? A ticking clock has started, we don't need to wait for 2050, we need stronger goals."

Fionn Ferreira

When Fionn was in high school in Ireland, he saw the effects of microplastic pollution on the environment first-hand on his adventures kayaking around the coast.

In high school, he invented a new method of extracting microplastics from the water using his own version of ferrofluid, a liquid developed by NASA. But he said for him the invention was almost a side effect of having fun.

"We need to not have the end goal in sight, we need to play and have fun - and innovation will come out of that naturally."

Fionn Ferreira, Scientist, University of Groningen, Netherlands speaking at „ Planting a Better Future „ Session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 24 January. Congress Centre - Situation Room. Copyright by World Economic Forum/Christian Clavadetscher
Fionn Ferreira at Davos 2020 Image: World Economic Forum

"There's only so much we can do by banning plastics, or banning plastic bags, but a lot of change has to come from innovators' discoveries. Innovation can play a huge role," he said.

"We should invest in some of the younger people in science. It takes time to discover something, if we can people started a little bit younger and earlier, maybe we can get them coming up with fresh ideas."

Salvador Gómez-Colón

Young activists aren't just talking about the issues impacting their world, they're taking action, said Salvador.

He created the Light and Hope for Puerto Rico campaign to distribute solar-powered lamps and hand-powered washing machines when Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

"We’re not waiting five, 10, 20 years to take the action we want to see. We’re not the future of the world, we’re the present, we’re acting now. We’re not waiting any longer."

Natasha Mwansa

Mwansa got a spontaneous round of applause when she compared the young activists to the older generation.

"They have a lot of experience, but we have ideas, we have energy, and we have solutions for the now problems and the ones that are coming up... So we need to collaborate.

"We don’t want to intimidate them too much... we can ride on [their] power, foster our agenda, but then partner. We’re not just going to tell you what we want to happen, we want to be involved from the start to the end."

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