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It's a new era for youth activism – and world leaders must listen

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Image: Unsplash/Simon Maage

Natalie Pierce
Head of Global Shapers Community, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The current generation of youth is the most outspoken, informed and empowered the world has ever seen.
  • Fifty young leaders – Global Shapers – will be shaking things up at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos.
  • The international community must listen to and collaborate with young people to improve lives and protect the planet.

Young innovators, activists and entrepreneurs are leading movements and solutions to manifest a more inclusive, sustainable and resilient world.

As one of the most outspoken, informed and empowered generations to-date, young people today have spent years honing their messages and abilities, building resources and networks, and improving their activism and reach.

Young people are not only raising their voices but taking direct action too. Youth have become leaders occupying top-level positions that enable them to improve lives and protect the planet.

From promoting equity and dignity in the workplace to achieving environmental justice and responsible technology governance, it’s past time for the international community to learn from their leadership and collaborate with them – starting in Davos.

Have you read?
  • How to follow Davos 2023

Fifty of these young leaders – Global Shapers – will shake up the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2023, which is taking place in Davos from 16-20 January.

In 2020, Global Shapers published the world’s first youth-driven pandemic recovery plan. Between 2021–2022, Global Shapers volunteered through their local hubs to execute projects that directly supported nearly 200,000 people and raised awareness of critical global and local issues among one million people worldwide.

It is imperative that we take notice and collaborate during #WEF23. Here's why:

  • Young people make bold demands to protect our collective future. They are ready to collaborate and accept lifestyle changes for their imperatives to be realized.
  • Youth messages are science-based and grounded in research and lived experience. Today’s activists have zero-tolerance for misinformation and toxicity or discrimination in media.
  • Youth activism is empathetic, inclusive, and intergenerational. Young people understand that equity and justice cut across every topic. Youth activism has learned from the achievements and mistakes of its ancestors.
  • Young leaders present achievable targets that cannot be dismissed as idealism. Roll up your sleeves and get ready to work – youth will provide determined optimism and accountability.
  • Youth demands are followed by youth action. Young people are actively participating in creating the change they want to see.

Young leaders want to see real progress made towards both humans and the environment flourishing.

What is youth’s call to action for individuals, organizations, and governments to accelerate solutions for the world’s most pressing global challenges, and how are young people leading the way?

Climate and nature

It’s time to value nature more highly than profit or geopolitics.

Youth activists call on governments and financial institutions to make good on their promises and take drastic action to keep global warming within 1.5°C.

Business leaders must decarbonize and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions of their operations and supply chains. Policymakers must incentivize sustainable consumption and penalize production that’s not sustainable. Financial institutions must refuse to bankroll corporations initiating new fossil fuel exploration.

Mirko Schedlbauer is the Founder of ShipZero by Appanion Labs, a technology platform decarbonizing global logistics – the only industry with continuously rising emissions. Mirko drives true emission reduction from global freight transportation – not offsetting or greenwashing. His portfolio has 4 million tons of CO2 under management today.

Young people insist that all stakeholders prioritize climate justice in their policies, systems and actions addressing climate change. Youth call on international governance systems to develop a new loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries, hardest hit but least responsible for climate change. They call equally on donors and philanthropists to direct a greater proportion of gifts and investments to climate justice initiatives.

Carla Gomez Briones is the Power and Climate Associate at The Rockefeller Foundation, advancing an equitable transition to a net-zero emissions economy. Previously, Carla accelerated blue economy community-led solutions across 25 small island developing states at the United Nations Development Programme.

Frontier technologies

Frontier technologies have the potential to relieve painful crises – to address food and nutrition insecurity, meet energy demands amid geopolitical crisis, and to prevent epidemics and pandemics. However, they can also jeopardize personal freedom and wellbeing, or increase political polarization.

Youth activists call on leaders to democratize the development of frontier technologies and the governance of data and implement strict ethical standards. Technology developers must adhere to, and policymakers must enforce, a strict “do no harm” principle. They must engage all levels of stakeholders throughout their creation, validation and regulation. Young people also call for an internationally validated and ratified Universal Declaration of Digital Rights.

Mariam Nourya Koné is the Founder of Hackily, where she trains hundreds in digital literacy and market-ready skills to ensure that women are at the forefront of technological innovation and development in Africa. Nourya has been a Google Women TechMaker Ambassador since 2019.

Equity and inclusion

Youth are disproportionately excluded from positions of power that facilitate impact at scale.

Therefore, youth activists call for corporate commitments to achieve age equity on boards. More than half of 500 S&P companies have no board directors under 50 years old.

Furthermore, young people insist that no issue is gender neutral. They call on elected leaders to champion the priorities of young women and gender diverse people and invite their collaboration on policy design – starting with greater policy support for women working in the care economy and bearing disproportionate household care responsibilities.

Ashleigh Streeter-Jones is the founder of Raise Our Voice Australia, an initiative to boost the number of diverse young female and non-binary voices in public decision-making. In 2021, Ashleigh facilitated 45 MPs and 21 Senators reading the priorities of 123 youth in Australian Federal Parliament.

Skills and work

In the US, 50% of the workforce is “quiet quitting”. Simultaneously, countries around the world are experiencing rising unemployment rates, with employees desperate to make ends meet. Young people are revaluating their relationship to labour in a system that does not prioritize wellbeing.

Youth activists call for employers to increase investment in the reskilling of their employees, and to make foundational learning sites free to access. Employers, take note: young people comprise the present and future global workforce.

They are attracted to purpose-driven corporate culture, remote working options, and flexible hours. They champion the four-day work week and other policies that put human flourishing first.

Fahd Jamaleddine is the Founder of Inspiration Gardens, a safe space for 500+ students and thousands of educators, transforming schools into spaces free of bullying and discrimination. In 2022, Fahd co-founded Nafda, a movement of 200+ school principals across Lebanon creating a common vision for the future of work and schools that instil a 'makers' mindset.

Health and wellbeing

Young people don’t want to see their futures fall apart due to preventable health crises.

Youth activists call on governments to invest heavily in prevention of large-scale emergencies and build healthcare systems that will be flexible and adaptable to challenges such as war or pandemics. Policymakers must contribute by depoliticizing public health and bring scientific fact back into vogue.

Prativa Baral is a Global Health Consultant, Epidemiologist and a Doctoral Candidate at Johns Hopkins University investigating methods of strengthening health systems. Prativa monitors health systems resilience in more than 30 countries for the World Bank, and analyses risk in the context of health emergency preparedness for the World Health Organization.


Young leaders insist that future health research must focus on women and marginalized communities to counter inequalities in health outcomes. Furthermore, governments must fight to institute, regain and preserve women’s right to access reproductive healthcare.

Policymakers must enshrine in law that accessible reproductive healthcare is a basic human right – and a powerful tool to empower individuals to secure their own physical and financial wellbeing.

Emma Hamrick is a project specialist for Upstream USA and works to expand opportunity for all by reducing unplanned pregnancy across the United States. Upstream works in partnership with health centres to strengthen reproductive care and autonomy by increasing equitable access to the full range of contraceptive options.

Trust and good governance

Young people are fed up with international inequality, conflict and lack of cooperation.

Youth activists call for meaningful inclusion in the international governance system and veto-free international institutions. At key international convenings, such as the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, they insist that 50% of participants must be representatives from the Global South.

These young change-makers want to have their ideas and priorities met with collaboration in board rooms, and be empowered to vote, run for office and influence policy from a young age.

Pratik Kunwar is the Founder of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI). Through Shaasan, CEI’s flagship civic engagement project, Pratik leads the largest coalition of private and civic society organizations for fairer and more inclusive elections in Nepal. In 2022, Shaasan trained thousands of youths across the country on how to cast valid votes.


How is the World Economic Forum promoting equity in the workplace?

Finally, our change-makers insist on good governance. They call for drastic electoral reforms and new social audit mechanisms that eliminate electoral fraud. There is no place for corruption in the future that young people deserve.

To complement electoral reform, youth activists call for greater transparency of government operations, greater protections for watchdog organizations and greater enforcement of tax evasion penalties. Corporates and the private sector must complement these efforts by protecting human rights throughout their supply chains and operations.

Pablo Marín Escobar is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Pluralio, a social enterprise using technology to promote electoral transparency in Mexico. During the 2021 legislative election, Pluralio reported more than 600 complaints with the National Anti-Corruption System – one quarter of all reports received nationally.

Young innovators, activists and entrepreneurs are leading movements and solutions to promote equity in the workplace, achieve environmental justice, and ensure responsible technology governance. World leaders must listen to, collaborate with and meet the expectations of today's youth, starting in Davos.

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