60 teens and youth made their voices heard and built relationships for intergenerational collaboration at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023.
Far more must be done to advance progress on youth priorities, from climate to inclusion, and to give young people power over decisions that impact their futures. Their discussions centered on five main calls to action:
1. AI and inclusion
As a society, we are constantly creating increasingly immersive technological experiences. It was no surprise that the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) emerged as a top priority for youth at #WEF23. Young people asked: how can we break down inequities using technology? And, how can we ensure that emerging technologies don’t perpetuate existing inequities?
As digital natives with zero tolerance for misinformation, discrimination and toxicity in media, youth participants demanded urgent action to proactively and ethically shape artificial intelligence before it’s created.
“We all have a unique filter through which we perceive the world. We absorb and process information, then from it, uniquely perceive reality. It's the same with artificial intelligence. We feed AI models with language that we have publicly available to produce a virtual world. But if we put garbage in, we will get garbage out.
"We have an opportunity to be proactive – what markers can control technology's collateral damage? AI models must be fed with voices that have been obscured in the past and with information about historic inequities. This way, AI can actually help us reduce inequality,” said Joseph Solis, a Global Shaper in Chicago. Solis is an LGBTQI+ activist and researcher at the University of Chicago who uses word embeddings to explore semantic toxicity in media and its impact on culture and discrimination.
2. Climate justice
To reach global climate goals and stay within planetary boundaries, there is a need for increased climate finance and philanthropy. The vast majority of funding, however, is pledged to Western initiatives led by what is perceived by many young people as elite stakeholders. Youth at #WEF23 want to see a change.
Young people called for climate financing and philanthropic partnerships to support youth-led initiatives and initiatives in the Global South, led by groups who are disproportionately affected by extreme weather, food insecurity, loss of livelihoods and extreme heat resulting from climate change.
“Only 0.76% of climate funding goes to youth. When people who have power and resources do not follow through on their promises and values, this leads to a breakdown of trust. Young people want and need more from international climate negotiations, starting with follow-through on pledges and commitments. Once that's done, we can start rebuilding trust,” said Dominique Souris. Souris is a Global Shaper in London who mobilises finance for climate justice initiatives. She is the Co-Founder and former Director of the Youth Climate Lab in Canada.
Helena Gualinga, Co-Founder of the Indigenous Youth Collective of Amazon Defenders, added at the session on Keeping the pace on climate: “Indigenous people protect the Amazon Rainforest not for business – but because of our relationship with nature. In my community, we call it the living forest. We have a non-extractive relationship with the planet based on mutual respect. We must ensure that indigenous people and this mindset are at the centre of decision-making from beginning to end.”
3. Civic empowerment
We are in a crisis of trust. Young people do not see themselves reflected in decision-making or decision-making bodies. At #WEF23, they told global audiences that they often feel powerless to change this or to hold local or national leaders to account.
Now, young change-makers are taking steps to address this crisis of trust for themselves, their peers and future generations. But they require intergenerational partnerships to make governments more responsive to the needs of young citizens.
“For political participation, I see a great opportunity. Technology has become cheaper to access for the poorest of the poor, strengthening the civic engagement and political power of ordinary citizens who are advocating for more transparent institutions and accountable governments. The majority of people in the Global South are youth who can and must be trained to handle the demands and challenges of the 21st century,” explained Pratik Kunwar, a Global Shaper in Kathmandu. Pratik is the Founder and Managing Director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, where he trains youth to vote and manages the largest coalition of organizations for fairer and more inclusive elections in Nepal.
At the session on the Economy of a super-aging society, Noura Berrouba, a Global Shaper in Stockholm, added: “Young people are experiencing stagnant wages, an inability to save for the future and a lack of access to housing. We doubt we will ever be able to own a home. We must invest in young people’s livelihoods, rights and opportunities to live dignified lives.
"The onus must be on companies to address stagnant wages and governments to ensure that the debt burden and the upholding of social systems do not fall on youth and future generations.” Berrouba is the President of the National Council of Swedish Youth Organizations (LSU). LSU convenes 84 organisations that collectively mobilise over 650,000 children and young people.
4. Education and access
Education is a powerful tool for lifting families out of poverty and reducing inequality. But do young people have access to the right learning and upskilling opportunities to navigate a complex and rapidly evolving digital world? This question was top of mind for young participants at #WEF23.
Youth called for greater and more inclusive investment in infrastructure to close the access gap and for inclusive, future-oriented educators to rise to the challenge of training a generation of technological makers and innovators.
Mariam Nourya Koné, a Global Shaper from Abidjan, highlighted the importance of education and reskilling to achieve dignified work for youth. She said: “Access is the priority issue our generation must solve. We need forward-thinking education and digital literacy, but this requires access to the internet. The internet reaches only 61% of people in Africa.”
Nourya is a software engineer and the Founder of Hackily, an initiative that provides digital literacy and skills training for women. She added that for women, inclusion is also a prerequisite for access. Women must be equipped, encouraged and empowered to actively shape innovation and the development of technology if we are to see the gender gap close in this area. “This is not just an African or Global South problem. Women everywhere are marginalised in STEM and this must change,” she said.
5. Authentic leadership
While young people are worried about an economic downturn, worsening debt, social fractures, planetary risks and geopolitical tensions, they ultimately remain optimistic about the future. When asked what gives them the greatest hope, youth participants gave thanks to the authentic leaders they see in governments and workplaces.
Young people support and want to be leaders who are empathetic, compassionate and self-aware. To restore intergenerational trust, young people at #WEF23 invited leaders to reflect internally and share a more authentic version of themselves with the world.
“We are not inheriting the world from our predecessors. We are borrowing it from our successors. Soon, we will be the old ones. What will we have done to make youth, 10-15 years from now, feel heard? What will we have done to make their lives better?” asked Nourya.
“There has never been a time when young people have had so much power, particularly power to hold the most powerful accountable. We stand on the shoulders of giants, learning from their successes and mistakes,” added Pratik. Our generation will and must make a difference.