Young Changemakers take center stage at World Economic Forum 2020

Photos by Anne Sallaerts from Instagram @designathons

Anne Sallaerts, Managing Director of Designathon Works, is just back from the World Economic Forum (WEF) and for the first time in its history, WEF emphatically recognised the power of young people as a force for change by giving young voices prominent stage space throughout the event. The Annual Meeting of WEF is one of the foremost platforms for the world’s top leaders across business, government, NGOs and academia to come together to shape the global agenda at the beginning of each year. Including young people and their ideas is a growing worldwide trend and one we have been actively advocating for, where young people are finally being seen as an active stakeholders in their own futures.

To illustrate how much attention young changemakers were given, the WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab told the global community during the press conference before the opening of the Annual Meeting:
“To listen to young people and diverse voices today is more important than ever and for this reason young people have been fully integrated into the 2020 annual meeting”.

That was quickly followed by the special WEF issue of TIME magazine, which was wholly devoted to ‘Young Leaders’.

TIME Frontpage: Next Gen World

While for many people Greta Thunberg is the visible forefront of this generation of youth leaders, she is anything but alone. Globally and specifically at the WEF event, activists, scientists and campaigners such as as, Salvador Gómez-Colón, Autumn Peltier, Natasha Mwansa, Ayakha Melithafa, Melati Wijsen and Fionn Ferreira amongst others spoke powerfully at different sessions last week. Melati who has successfully campaigned against plastic bags on her island of Bali, is currently launching a youth empowerment project called Youthtopia; Ayakha represents many young climate activists from the African continent and is advocating for mandatory climate curriculums in schools; Salvador created the Light and Hope for Puerto Rico campaign which distributed solar-powered lamps to some 3.000 underserved families. See below for links to their work.

Many sessions last week in Davos were lit up by their engagement, brilliance and urgency, to quote: Autumn ”I don’t want your awards, award me by helping implement my ideas”, Fionn “We should invest in the younger people in science. Because it takes time to discover something, if we get people started younger, we can get them coming up with more fresh and interesting ideas sooner.”

Reimagining the role of children

For the past 6 years we at Designathon Works have been advocating for a radical rethink on how society sees children. As our founder Emer Beamer often asks: “What if we saw children as changemakers, engaged humans, activists, campaigners, scientists or inventors, and then helped them to develop their abilities for these roles?”

With our programs we have worked with over 50.000 children in the age bracket of 7–12 years and both our first hand experience and research shows that children consider global problems carefully and can come up with surprisingly creative and indeed credible solutions. We found that 70% of children both really care and are very concerned about world problems and in contrast they estimate that only 34% believe that adults are genuinely concerned. The concern of children reflects their willingness to take action, as we have seen in the Fridays for Future movement.

Our expectation (and conviction) is that young people will play an increasingly significant role in change movements and innovation across various sectors. This wave is not coming, it’s happening. Whether you and I like it or not, young people worldwide are taking their futures into their own hands, from fighting climate change to fighting discrimination and tackling poverty. As Salvador Gomes-Colon said,

What can you do?

Do you, like us, want to encourage the growing participation of children and young people in societal issues? Do you want children to develop the knowledge, tools and skills so they can co-design a better world? Then you can support them by taking action, consider:

  • Supporting youth-led initiatives:
    Initiatives such as Make a Change World or Fridays For Future by sharing knowledge and networks or by contributing financially.
  • Amplify the messages of young changemakers:
    Invite them to your events, spread their messages on social media, mention them in conversations and on stage.
  • Take young people seriously:
    As an individual start listening to children. If you show children that you truly value what they have to say and ask them authentic, open questions you will often receive amazing answers and insights. They will surprise you if you only listen.

Authors: Emer Beamer, Founder & Anne Sallaerts, Managing Director

Empowering children to design a better world

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