Empowering Millennials: Our Future in their Hands

29/09/2016 10:23

Since 1950, global life expectancy has risen from 48 to over 67 years in 2010. Over a similar period, global Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased from USD1.4trillion in 1960 to its peak in 2014 of USD78.1trillion, falling in 2015 for only the second time since 1960 (the first time in response to the Global Financial Crisis) to USD73.4bn. And global population growth, which during the 20th century alone grew from 1.65 billion to 6 billion, is estimated to reach 9 billion by 2038.

This growth was brought about through a revolution in farming, industry, healthcare and sanitation. With the advent of social media and the exponential growth of technology and innovation, this revolution has evolved, transforming personal interactions and politics. As with all change, there is good and bad; there are those who have benefited and those who have not. According to Oxfam, inequality has grown to such a level that 62 people own as much as the poorest half of the world's population. And then there is climate change. Politicians and economists are only really beginning to grapple with the serious economic, environmental and humanitarian consequences of failing to reduce global carbon emissions quickly and deeply.

We are also witnessing human migration at an unprecedented level. 244 million people, or 3.3 per cent of the world's population, live outside their home country. Many cross borders in search of better economic and social opportunities, while others flee conflict and humanitarian crisis often risking their lives to do so.

Impact on Youth

We face a tumultuous future, which is a truism that has been uttered about multiple generations before. The pace of change, however, is the defining difference millennials confront.

We are also seeing demographics playout; traditional economies have an aging population whilst developing economies have a greater proportion of the global youth. According to UNESCO, under 30s account for more than half of the world's population (50.5%) with over 89% living in emerging and developing economies, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

The term NEET (not in education, employment or training) has, in part, become synonymous with this generation. There are over 75 million NEETs globally which is approximately 12% of the youth population. This is compared to the global adult unemployment rate of just under 5%. Although the challenge is a global one, those with low levels of education in developed economies are disproportionately affected.

The reality of this is that millennials are at risk of being the first generation of workers in modern times to see their lifetime earnings fall, when compared to previous generations. With the pace of technological change, and its disruptive consequences, the idea of job security is a thing of the past which can exacerbate the squeeze on income. To add insult to injuring, millennials may also on average live less healthy and possibly even shorter lives than their parents.

The Future's Bright

Millennials face a daunting future having to navigate issues as diverse as global poverty, gender parity, extremism, climate change and environmental conservation, as well as the need for stable governments and inclusive economies. In short, millennials will be responsible for delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Not because they have to, and not because it's good for leaders in politics, business or civil society to be associated with, but because they need to. They need to for their own prosperity, but because of a greater connectedness, it's harder to turn a blind eye to the global issues.

The future may seem bleak, but I believe the opposite is true. This week (28th September - 1st October, 2016) in Canada, One Young World and Enactus will take place. These two annual meetings focus on how young people are shaping the world for good through business; through civil action; and through believing they have a right to shape the future of our planet.

Having been involved with both movements for a number of years I have seen the brightest young leaders from around the world be empowered to make lasting connections creating a foundation of collaboration for positive societal change. I have seen millennials, from rich and poor countries, debate, formulate and share innovative solutions for the pressing issues the world faces. I have seen students work with farmers in China to reduce agricultural waste and carbon emissions while improving incomes. I have seen Enactus teams improve financial stability for migrant farmers in India as well as improve the life chances for children in care in the US.

Both Enactus and One Young World are about engaging young leaders on a path towards lifelong learning as it will be these young people who will cement the intentions of the SDGs. It will be these men and women who will have to navigate the world through the turmoil it is facing. It is our responsibility to engage with them now, to learn from them and to empower them as our future is in their hands.

My fervent hope is that generations to come will look back on the next few decades as ones where we not only maintained our capacity to grow the economy, but to do so in a more sustainable way that reduces inequality and the pressure for people to flee the country of their birth. What I am seeing with Enactus and One Young World gives me confidence that the seeds for that optimism are being planted.

Youth is a time of optimism and energy, and in the light of the complexities ahead and the pressure that surround us, nothing is as energy giving or cynicism destroying as building the potential for others to succeed and in that, I rest my hope.