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07 February 2020

A few weeks after Davos, it’s a good time to reflect on the role of young people globally.  

If you’re thinking – ‘what is Davos?’ –  that’s totally fair. It’s not something I know much about, but officially it’s the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting hosted in Davos, Switzerland (hence the name). Essentially it brings together politicians, journalists, business and charities to meet at a conference and network more informally. 

What else do we know about it? The majority of people there are men; 22% of attendees were female* (that number has actually doubled since 2001), who are mostly older* (average age is 54 for men and 49 for women) and largely white.

What happened this year? 

A group of young climate activists attended, and some of the response was not particularly supportive or positive. Two moments stand out. 

Firstly, Vanessa Nakate – an activist & organiser from Uganda – was cropped out of a picture with other white climate activists. The original photo was later released by the Associated Press but only after public outcry online.

And secondly, Greta Thunberg – a climate and environment activist from Sweden – spoke on a panel of young environmentalists and was later dismissed by US Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, telling her that she needed to study economics before she could have a voice.

Despite this, day-in, day-out, young people are coming up with solutions to important issues that affect us all. I’d like to take the opportunity to highlight some of the brilliant ways young people taking positive social and environmental action throughout our network. Below are just a few examples through our youth social action programmes representing members across London:  

City Leaders – young people publishing a Call to Action with 10 solutions to end Youth Violence, producing a poetry anthology to bring awareness and improve confidence in the LGBT+ community or delivering boxing sessions and fixing bikes with a local school supporting others with special needs.  

Keeping it Wild – teams building moss benches in highly polluted areas or developing the outdoor space at their youth club to grow food, encourage a bee highway and protect local wildlife including birds.  

East London Leaders – groups working with a café to provide food for homeless people in the community, tackling hate speech by removing negative graffiti in the local area and young people with disabilities assessing and ensuring spaces they use are accessible to them.  

Microgrants – putting on plays that young people have written and directed about mental health, running self-care sessions with other young people, using art as a way to explore their emotions.  

Going forward, young people’s voices need to be at the centre of decision making. This generation will live longest in the world that we are building today. They have the ideas and solutions, so let’s trust them. 

I’m very excited to see what’s next with young people leading change in communities across the world (and maybe even at Davos 2021). Young people have the answers – we just need to listen. 

*Source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-46895332 

 – Sophie Hewitt, Head of Youth Action


Find out more about our youth social action programmes here.

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