[Five lessons from the ACM] Lesson 3: Youth leadership begins with robust values

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The Annual Curators Meeting 2016 (“ACM”) provided many useful lessons for effective contribution to the Global Shapers Community. I was privileged to represent the Hong Kong Hub as its Deputy Curator. Here is the third of the five lessons I learnt.

The value of youth per se

The Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (“Forum”), Prof. Klaus Schwab and his leadership team shared their aspirations for the development of the Global Shapers Community at the recent ACM in Geneva. Schwab explained that he formed the Global Shapers Community to give youths a seat at the table. He recognized that youth today are increasingly value-driven, many of whom are highly respectful of the equity and dignity of individuals, and serving not only their interests but society’s interests.

Young people in policy areas of education, industry, and social security, for example,  represent other “nested” demographic attributes. For example, there are more women and ethnic minorities completing tertiary education than ever before. Young people also generally tend to be poorer than older people, simply on a measure of lifetime savings accrued. There are global and local generational trends. Regardless, young people should have their own experiences recognized in many areas of life (even those that might not be obviously youth related).

Impatience as a virtue (to a degree)

Schwab believed that many young people are impatient and so they should be. “Impatience is a virtue,” he said, “but it must be tempered by respect and exercised judiciously.” There are only 24 hours each day. We all owe ourselves a duty to prioritize our time for whom and what should be most important to us. Schwab would only read news articles on topics that would still likely be relevant in five years’ time. He also shared with Shapers in Geneva some tips on how he prepares for every meeting. He would not go into a meeting, unless he foresaw that three objectives would be met:

  1. How will I come home with a new or better idea to manage my team?
  2. How will this meeting have a transformation impact on myself?
  3. Did I meet someone who will be a friend for life?

The war on cynicism

Youth is often associated with a high degree of authenticity and optimism, which break down cynicism and paves the way for honesty, trust, and legitimacy. Yet, authenticity and optimism are lacking in the contemporary world. On the contrary, parochial politics dominate and decisions are driven too frequently by fear and crisis management. It breeds scenarios where analyses lack holistic and contextual understanding and considerations are short sighted. Even if stakeholders were consulted, the consultation would likely be narrow, shallow, and sporadic.

There is obviously a lot to unpack here. Suffice to say that youth is not synonymous with authenticity, and optimism unchecked is unrealistic and sometimes dangerous. The youthful stereotype is also associated with immaturity and reckless exuberance, which are anathema to good judgement. Reasonable and wise people should surely refrain themselves from applying stereotypes indiscriminately. Older people could be just as unwise as those younger, although their judgement might be clouded by other factors, such as a run of bad luck or an inflexible adherence to rules and procedures (that no longer reasonably apply).  What should be taken away from this is that: Young people should be given a fair chance.

Nurturing the young, not patronize them

Young leaders, who are authentic, optimistic, and driven, are ready to contribute to society today, not tomorrow. They have many qualities in their own right to participate in important societal processes, especially those with lasting impact. This is aligned with the spirit of the multi-stakeholder approach supported by the Forum. Young people’s verve, fresh and unburdened perspectives, and long-term vested interests are important to society. Young people are more open to new ideas. These characteristics are good counter-weights to maintain a balance of inter-generational voices, and fight against cynicism and other toxic beliefs. As such, young people should be nurtured with robust positive values, and be given space to channel their energy and express themselves. They may have developmental needs, but do not patronize them. Respect the dignity of the youth as you would the dignity of others.

Source: Annual Curators Meeting, World Economic Forum 2016.

As the Global Shapers Community expands its global footprint and becomes more and more interconnected, Schwab would like to see more Global Shapers founding initiatives with a clear purpose to improve their region. In fact, he offered to write a personal letter to ask local leaders to support regional projects and acknowledge that the organizing hub is acting on behalf of the Forum. Schwab concluded the ACM by thanking young people for seizing the opportunity to become part of the Global Shapers Community.

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