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We Can't Ignore Young People's Demands, But Make Demands We Can Act On

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This past Tuesday in 84 countries young people took to the streets, and their phones and computers to tell the rest of us that we're failing them. They said it was a Wake Up Call. I'm sympathetic. As a mother and one of those global leaders they criticise, I know they're right. We're not doing enough.

You can't blame them for their dissatisfaction. They look at the progress we've made in the world, but there are so many things that have gone wrong. Things we could fix. And they see these big gatherings with all of the CEOs and heads of governments and great minds, all this concentrated power with the means to fix things, and yet climate change gets worse, the banking crisis remains, the Greek problem is going to be with us for a long time.

When I was that young person, we lived in the eye of the storm. I grew up in apartheid South Africa. There were no weapons. You couldn't demonstrate. You risked your life just talking out loud about discontent. Now you tweet it. We have the tools. And my sense is that these young people look at us and say, "What's your problem? You have the tools and you do nothing."

Last month at Davos I tramped through the snow to see the Occupy protestors camped out there. They were kept well away from the conference. You literally had to go and find them. I feel a vague visceral empathy for them, but I don't know what they want.

I met a 22-year-old woman named Flurina Marugg. She was this passionate bright young light. I was so struck with this girl. http://www.wearesevenhills.com/news/2012/01/30/one-young-world-co-founder-comes-face-to-face-with-occupywef-protestor-at-davos/

Yet the more I asked about what she wanted, the bigger the demands. They want us to fix the world, fix everything that's wrong. That's hopeless.

When you say, "abolish capitalism", what do you want me to do? Do I take the banks down? That's ridiculous. Do I stop making and selling things? The world would stop turning. Make a demand I can act on.

We are listening. We can't afford not to. We've seen the power young peoples' voices have and how quickly they spread over social media, and how growing dissatisfaction can topple governments. I heard Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, say that if a regime can fall in four weeks, a brand can disappear in a nanosecond. We can't afford to think we can do as we like with this generation.

The issues are real - a lack of jobs, environmental problems, healthcare issues and so on. But these issues and how to resolve them must be properly communicated. At the World Economic Forum, I didn't hear a demand I could act on, or anybody could act on. The media ignored them. If you don't have a clear message about what you want, you cannot reasonably expect the world's media to help you get that message across.

They must demand the possible, educate themselves about the issues, and engage with people who can make things happen. FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela talked. And see what happened there.

In 2009, with David Jones, Global CEO of Havas, we created an organisation called One Young World to give young people a global platform to make demands we could all act on. David's view was that we needed to harness the energy of young people, their minds, social media savvy and so many talents to create positive change. Exactly 823 young people showed up at our first gathering in London. At the next one in Zurich, there were more than 1,200 from 171 countries.
Now, three years on, these young people have issued a Wake Up Call. The calls they've made to political and business leaders are specific, straight-forward and achievable. And there are so many of them.

On Tuesday morning in Kathmandu dozens of young activist accompanied disabled people to the Ministry of Local Development to demand access for all into public buildings. They had to stop at the steps where the disabled people could go no further. The Minister himself had to walk down the stairs to meet with them. The moment was intense and that image spoke louder than words. I felt so proud. These young people used their enthusiasm and energy wisely. The next thing you know, you're getting a wheelchair ramp to a ministry building in Nepal.

Kate Robertson is the UK Group Chairman of Euro RSCG and co-founder of the international youth summit One Young World along with co-founder David Jones, Global CEO Havas.