Recently 452 brilliant young people from 452 cities representing 169 countries gathered “quietly” in Geneva. Our purpose? Getting to know each other so we can positively change the world together. An ambitious goal backed by the relentless energy and unwavering hope in possibilities that essentially sums up the term ‘youth’. Today’s youth are the best equipped to change the world and no one believes this more than we do.
So who were these 452 people? I’ll spare listing them all, collectively we are called the Global Shapers, which sounds like a group of superheroes and I promise you some are. An initiative backed by the World Economic Forum, the Global Shapers Community is a network of hubs developed and led by young people, primarily between the ages of 20 and 30 who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to make a difference in their communities. The 452 individuals are called curators each charged with leading their hub’s service to their communities. It always feels a bit out of place to speak about myself in this capacity, but I can attest to the amazing talent and accomplishments of the other 451 individuals that were in this space, dubbed the ‘Annual Curators Meeting’.
What is it like to build a community that is non-political, self-selected and self-organised around issues facing the globe? Apparently it’s an ongoing social experiment and no one knows what it will look like in five years. As youth we enjoy the uncertainty and see extraordinary value in being apart of building something. The community was formed as a direct response to the 2010 uprisings in the Middle East, which revealed pressing matters, which needed to be addressed. Youth were disgruntled by their unrealised voice on issues shaping their future and youth have the ability to band together to force meaningful change. The conclusion — we are deserving of a seat at the table, to be a part of the decisions that affect our lives. With youth unemployment at an unprecedented high coupled with a number of key social issues including education, energy and sustainability the Shaper Community remains extremely relevant. Youth are not satisfied with the world the current generation has created and want to be involved in the change.
The program at the Forum’s headquarters in Geneva, focused on the vision, values and culture of the Shapers community and aimed to ensure the success and sustainability of each Hub and the community on a whole; it included a wide range of plenary sessions, workshops, leadership and teambuilding activities as well as other interactive engagements. Participants also took part in an array of activities designed to make a positive impact on the host city. We asked ourselves over and over and over and over, ‘what is Shaping?’ There are many answers, but I think a good summary would be collectively and positively influencing the development of our world.
Shapers are self selected and self organised which says a lot for an organisation such as The World Economic Forum, with a brand held so tightly over the past four decades. Why did the organisation responsible for the super exclusive Davos event decide there was a need to give youth a seat at the table in such a dramatic fashion and why are they so open to allowing this group to leverage their brand? If you ask Professor Schwab, he will tell you it was unavoidable, how can you ignore the largest demographic on the planet? Over 50 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 27. Yet they are severely under represented in global affairs. If you allow that to sink in, you will see how critically unbalanced our decision-making processes are. As my colleague Bradley Morris, representing British Columbia put it “As innovators, digital natives and those most impacted by today’s policy decisions, they deserve a seat at the table. The Global Shapers embody the ‘community of the future’, bringing together young people in a diverse, decentralised, and digitally hyper-connected way.” The Forum’s decision was a responsible one and totally in line with its influential position, the world needed an intervention and there are not many organisations better positioned to elevate this call to action to better engage and empower youth.
The Forum has faced some push back in their decision to let 50 young people per year access the Davos community with compliments, but they have faced this challenge head on with the understanding that this is a necessary step in fulfilling their commitment to ‘improve the state of the world.’ What greater platform could you use to alert the world as to the importance of a more inclusive society than to lend access to and a voice at an event, which possibly has more impact on global policy and economic development than any other? This is a bold statement by the organisation to let the governing class of the world know that young people have something to say and gasp, it’s valuable.
The Annual Curators meeting is an amazing space to be in, every Global Shaper should aspire to attend. Very few organisations can claim to convene this many nationalities in a single room. Very few people in the world will ever have the experience of connecting with so many cultures from around the globe in their lifetime. This makes the remarkable experience somewhat difficult to describe. What is it like to connect with global “strangers” over five short days and walk away feeling like family? Vulnerability builds bonds and one of the first questions we were prompted to ask each other was what do you fear? The trust factor of the community is beyond compare, as many of us can confirm we opened up like never before and walked away with life long friends. I remember numerous sleepless nights with great company, which led into early morning sessions with new friends. The camaraderie spread through the space, an observer could sit back and watch friendships being made.
Shapers are doing incredible things, highlighted by presentations made during the semi-finals of the Coca Cola Grant competition. One of the most touching, was presented by the Kathmandu Hub and aims to assist with the earthquake relief efforts in Nepal, reconstructing a community health post which was reduced to one room from 15 but continues to operate to help those in need. Other impressive projects were presented by hubs from Brazil, Colombia, India, Palestine, the Philippines, Portugal, Switzerland and Uruguay.
I was fortunate to present the Kingston Hub’s Speak Up Jamaica project, a platform designed to amplify the voice of youth in Jamaica on issues of national development and increase youth participation in the democratic process. Another inspiring project was presented by Michael Waiyaki Nganga from the Nairobi Hub, winners of the Abraaj Group’s grant for Global Shapers. Note that the grant was designed and funded by Abraaj’s employees to support Global Shapers, an amazing testimony to the tremendous potential of this community validated by the people behind a very powerful private corporate leader. The Nairobi hub has initiated a game-changing project granting renewable energy sources to under served communities, the volunteer project honestly sounds more like a well-backed start up and the impact they are making is mighty impressive.
Coca Cola, The Abraaj Group and Reliance are the major corporate backers of the community, highlighting their commitment to youth and the future of our world. The Curators meeting has a simple conclusion, youth are demanding a seat at the table and are well positioned to add positively to what the next fifty years should look-like for humanity. We will make our voices heard through our businesses and social initiatives. We are an action oriented set, burning with energy to be a part of the decision making process. I am proud to be a part of this community and thankful for the opportunities and connections it has delivered so far.
A big thank you goes to the Geneva Hub for organising the media team for the event, covering the stories of outstanding individuals and extending the life memories of the event beyond the days we spent together. And last but not least, a big shout to my tribe! I could not have asked to be grouped with a more amazing set — Zakia, Arthur, Tom, Abdullah, Anya, Jackson, Edoardo, BIG UP!
This article first appeared in the Huffington Post on 3rd September 2015, reproduced with permission of the author.
Kirk-Anthony Hamilton is an entrepreneur from Kingston, Jamaica. He is currently working on sustainable models for tourism and development that prioritise the economic security of local people and resources, providing a lasting alternative to the exploitative, unsustainable models often found in the Caribbean. He intends to fuse his creativity and business acumen to produce lifestyle oriented carbon neutral communities funded in part by local investors. He has created a platform called ‘The Destination Experience’, which brings together local and international business leaders driving further connectivity between the Caribbean and other markets. The Destination Experience connects a community of decision makers and influencers with a dynamic network of ideas, people and opportunities through a series of social discovery experiences. The hospitality sector is a catalyst for his plans, but Kirk-Anthony is working on ways for a multiplier effect to seep into other parts of the private sector. In May of 2015 Kirk-Anthony was selected as one of 75 Emerging Global Entrepreneurs to be honored for their achievements by President Obama at the White House. He is the Curator of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Kingston Hub, A Westerwelle Foundation Alumni and A One Young World Ambassador