• We asked 10 young activists what makes them optimistic about the future.
  • Their answers included hopes for gender equality, climate action, empathy and more.

As the coronavirus pandemic rages on and each week seemingly brings new social injustices or preventable catastrophes, it’s easy to feel hopeless – even to the point of paralysis. So how do citizens intent on changing the world keep going?

We asked 10 young organizers and activists who participated in The Davos Agenda what makes them optimistic and this is what they shared, along with other key takeaways.

Many of the young people featured in this article are driving dialogue, action and chain through The Davos Lab – a Global Shapers Community initiative to mobilize interested citizens and stakeholders in more than 150 countries to shape a youth-driven recovery plan to address COVID-19 and the world's converging crises.

Collectively, they highlighted extraordinary solutions, mindsets and simple actions, big and small, to address the challenges of today and provide hope for a better tomorrow.

1. "Intersectionality can radically improve recovery efforts"

Ashleigh Streeter-Jones (Canberra Hub) is the founder of Raise Our Voice Australia, a non-profit working to increase the number of female and gender diverse voices from all backgrounds in politics and policy-making.

"Throughout The Davos Agenda, leaders consistently acknowledged the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women, young people, people of colour and other persons from marginalised backgrounds. Participants reinforced the importance of public, private, and civil society partnerships to create an inclusive post-COVID world. It is on all of us to build back better and create a society that leaves no one behind. Davos reignited my mission to foster more diversity in public policy and to embrace public policy as a tool for change."

2. "Put simply: we need more women in leadership"

Sikander Bizenjo (Karachi Hub) is an economist and development practitioner. In his hub, he and fellow Global Shapers have provided more than 60,000 books to libraries in need throughout the pandemic.

"Female-led countries have been held up as exemplars of how to manage this pandemic. What was obvious throughout The Davos Agenda is that we need more women in leadership – not only to help drive recovery efforts but also to build a stronger, more equitable-post pandemic world. The gender divide is prominent in all societies and until we have inclusive leadership, we cannot truly progress."

3. "Climate action must be at the heart of recovery efforts."

Rumaitha Al Busaidi (Muscat Hub) is a marine scientist and the Director of the Environment Society of Oman.

"With COVID-19 infections continuing to rise and the entire world feeling the economic impact of the crisis, getting the virus under control is an immediate priority. But recovery goes beyond vaccination plans and returning economic systems to 'normal.' A sustainable recovery requires efforts to address climate change and I was happy to see that this was the most talked-about topic during The Davos Agenda. The calls to action for business leaders are clear: we need responsible industry transformations and green growth."

4. "We need empathy, self-awareness, and integrity."

Taylor Hawkins (Sydney Hub) is the Managing Director of Foundations for Tomorrow, a non-profit working with Global Shapers to mobilize youth to shape a more equitable and sustainable future in Australia.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency – but it is far more. It is an economic crisis, a social crisis and a human crisis. With so much suffering around us – loss of life, unemployment and sickness – the need for empathy, self-awareness and integrity in business, leadership and society is more urgent now than ever and this was reflected in so many of the messages shared by world leaders during The Davos Agenda.

This was echoed in acknowledgments of the need to observe early warning signs as well as the consistent reference to the requirement for shared goals, strategies and accountability in the international community.

When leaders of different, even opposing, world views can come together for collective problem-solving, the possibilities are endless.

—Shalin Jyotishi, Washington DC Hub

Caela Tanjangco (Manila Hub) supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Caela and other Global Shapers are leading voter registration and education campaigns in advance of the 2022 elections.

Pandemics know no borders. We cannot address the world’s converging crises in silos. We need to share technology, provide equitable access for vaccines in developing countries and agree globally on shared health and safety guidelines for travel and trade. We are only as strong as our weakest link, so it’s critical we ensure no one is left behind. I am hopeful from The Davos Agenda that the international community agrees.

6. "We need intergenerational partnerships and allies."

Shalin Jyotishi (Washington DC Hub) is a researcher, writer and policy advisor fulfilling his mission at New America. He and his fellow Global Shapers are working with the World Economic Forum's AI Platform to launch the AI Future Lab, a community of practice for young people dedicated to advancing responsible AI.

"The Davos Agenda affirmed to me the importance of intergenerational, public-private partnerships. When leaders of different, even opposing, world views can come together for collective problem-solving, the possibilities are endless. This crisis has emphasized our obligations to one another and other generations, even in the face of personal sacrifice, and I am hopeful that this spirit will be maintained post-pandemic."

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.

7. "Fear cannot drive decision-making."

Laura Reyna de la Garza (Mexico City Hub) is the Founding Director of PuenTechLab and is currently a technology policy student at Cambridge University.

"Uncertainty and fear are common ingredients of both the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet whether we are talking about algorithmic governance or finding ways to reengage with society after long periods of lockdown, decisions based on fear over facts will fail. Decision-makers must employ data to identify patterns, iterate and find solutions to the many complex challenges our world faces."

8. "A new normal requires a new social contract."

David Walcott (Kingston Hub) is a medical doctor and entrepreneur. Over the last year, he has supported Global Shapers in more than 150 countries to implement community responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"While technology and globalization have led to unprecedented economic growth over the last two decades, growing inequality remains the biggest threat to our future. Disparities are rife and around the world, countries are not only struggling to equally distribute the vaccine but also other basic needs such as housing, healthcare and education. It’s obvious that the social contract that binds us together is broken, but I’m hopeful that the introspection forced by this pandemic will finally be the push the world needs to rebalance power with responsibility and achieve dignified outcomes for all."

9. "We must protect and invest in people."

Mariam Raheem (Lahore Hub) works at the intersection of data-driven research and policy-making. She and other Global Shapers in Lahore are working to uplift vulnerable communities, reclaim public spaces and build social cohesion during this critical time through community-based projects.

"While there are no simple pathways to building back better, one thing is loud and clear: we need to invest in people, our wellbeing and our future. All stakeholders must recognize diverse lived experiences, disrupt social narratives and abandon inherent biases to guarantee that the setbacks of today don’t hold people back tomorrow. There is a very real threat that the resources, tools and vaccines that could help end the pandemic may deepen rifts and undermine the recovery of entire nations and generations. We need rapid and concerted actions as well as new paradigms that promote inclusive and equitable growth."

What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum's work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

10. "We are all in this together."

Jodie Padilla Lozano (Guayaquil Hub) is a scientific researcher, activist and author. In Guayaquil, she and other Global Shapers are leading an international alliance for mass-professional training for youth.

"The coronavirus threatens everyone. We live in a deeply interconnected world where the failures and opportunities of one community are maximized overtime on a global scale. Regardless of where we call home, our income or the industry we work in, we are all in this together and each have a role to play in building more effective and inclusive solutions for the emergency of today and the recovery for tomorrow. We must work together with urgency and renewed responsibility to improve the lives of all stakeholders."