Giving young people a voice in world society and the global economy

empty podium


China Today

December 2020

The power of young leaders to shape the world was dramatized in September 2020 when four youth representatives from Ghana, Malaysia, the Bahamas and France were invited to speak at the Opening Plenary marking the 75th anniversary of the United Nations. Sharing the rostrum with the Secretary-General of the UN, the young leaders implored the world leaders who followed them to make a more just, sustainable, and less dangerous world.

Championing such youth leadership is the core mission of One Young World and to that end we value our partnership with the InterAction Council and other bodies that ensure that the women and men who hold power also listen to young leaders. The COVID-19 crisis is a case in point.

COVID-19 continues to cause chaos around the world. In the wake of its destructive path, we are left asking to disrupt and innovate in many areas of our societies and economies. Labelled the ‘New Normal’, education is no different with the disease highlighting much scope for change, reform and improvement.

At the core of this approach to education is the belief that what we teach our young people should reflect the challenges that they will collectively need to overcome. At One Young World, we trust that the current generation of young people are the most engaged, connected and conscious of humanities great global issues – of any generation that has come before. It is key that we are supplying them with the tools and knowledge to take on these challenges.

In many areas of education, especially in the United Kingdom, we focus too narrowly at the national level. We dedicate significant time and resources to studying subjects all within the context of the nation. On too few occasions are this current generation of pupils asked about the politics between states, the role of supranational organisations in our lives, the global economy, trading relations, international cooperation or joint efforts to curb climate change.

In late September, One Young World launched its new Academy – a transformative Challenge-Based learning platform that helps to rethink how we are educating young people, globally. The One Young World Academy takes a different perspective and brings together global leaders to dare participants to think internationally – equipping them with the thought processes and critical skills that will be needed to find meaningful solutions to many of the problems that globalisation presents.

The United Kingdom is less than 100 days away from exiting the European Union, with the transition period soon to expire. The country will be forced to establish new relationships on the world stage, secure formalised trading relationships, and to formulate its position as a global power. China is the second largest economy in the world and will play an ever-greater presence in UK foreign policy making.

What has been lacking from our efforts to build alliances across the globe is an intergenerational dialogue back home. Young people are excluded, with little voice in the debates on foreign policy that will define our international relationships for decades to come. Impacting their generation more than any other, what happens post-Brexit on the world stage will in many ways steer our collective response to issues such as climate change, peace, hunger, poverty, and more. Now is the time to be giving young people a voice in world society and the global economy.

No one nation can solve climate change alone, for instance. No one nation can reverse the environmental damage this species has inflicted on the planet or create the technologies that lead us closer to net zero. It will require the coming together of states, leaders, business, activists, consumers and every tranche of society to wean the world off carbon. In working together on these great challenges and opportunities it will prove vital that our young people have the tools and frameworks to play an active and definitive role.

In a surprise announcement, China has now declared that it is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2060. Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, President Xi Jinping declared that the country would hit peak emissions by 2030 and then carbon neutrality just 30 years later. With COP26 postponed this year until 2021, there have been fears mounting across the globe that COVID-19 will lead to a pause in progress on climate change – not just a stall on emissions, but in many instances actually reversing our impact on the environment. The announcement from China has given fresh hope that we can push for a green recovery for the world economy and continue to take significant steps forward in halting climate change. Have no doubts that young leaders will be critical in seeing this through.

Within several of our core programmes at One Young World, including Lead2030 where global brands partner with young people to tackle the UN’s SDG commitments, every day we see the innovation, creativity and determination with which young leaders across every continent commit to fighting inequalities and combating hardships in their local communities and beyond. Young leaders are continuously demonstrating their ability to change the world for the better and to take the fight to those in the highest offices of power or running multinational businesses. The One Young World Academy is about taking those vital ingredients that are at the heart of these young activists and finding ways to teach others how to make a difference and play a part in taking on the world’s most significant issues.

China’s Net Zero emissions declaration at UNGA and the UK’s obligations to the whole range of United Nations Sustainability Goals are significant commitments from two of the world’s major economies. And whilst current leaders will need to activate and accelerate the change needed to reach these goals, ultimately it will be today’s young leaders that will be most impacted by these decisions and most responsible for achieving them. It is vital then that we educate young people today with the tools for tomorrow.

Ella Robertson is Managing Director of One Young World, the global forum for young leaders.