The start of the year is always an opportune time to reflect. To tear down the undesired, preserve what is working and forcefully bring in the new. For the past 10 years, my reflection point has centered around the World Economic Forum (WEF), which gathers 3000 of the world’s most prominent business, political, media, academia and civil society leaders for a 4 day conclave, nestled in the tiny Swiss alpine village called Davos. The discussions and sentiments expressed at Davos, on political and financial confidence (or lack thereof), often help set the tone for our world towards the rest of the year.
When we look at 2020 and the special 50th anniversary edition of Davos, there appears little to be hopeful about. The WEF’s Global Risk Report, which serves as a curtain raiser to the meeting, is a sobering read. More than 75% of the expert respondents to the report expect each and every one of the Top 5 risks that the world faces, to increase in 2020: economic confrontations and protectionism, domestic political polarization and populism, extreme heat waves, destruction of natural ecosystems and cyberattacks. Climate change was adjudged as the number one stand-out risk over the next 10 years.
On the economic front, the World Bank’s evaluation of 2019 showed the most feeble performance in global economic growth since last decade’s financial crisis, with only tepid growth of 2.5% expected in the world economy this year. And you do not need to turn on your CNN or EuroNews to know that the world very narrowly avoided an escalation into a major conflict in the Middle East – a risk that may not yet have completely passed. Combine all these assessments, and surely the median scenario outlook for the future surely looks bleak.
I would disagree. To all other hopeless optimists out there, who may today feel they have crossed that fine line into delusion, by still hoping for a better future, I would recommend reading the fine book called Factfulness, written by Hans, Ola and Anna Rosling. Through statistics and compelling facts it lays out line by line how the world is a better place today than it was in the past. Whether it is eradication of poverty, access to healthcare, penetration of education, growth in average lifespans, reduction in risks of conflicts, access to water or cancer survival rates, on every front there has been immense human progress.
Yet leave even all this aside. There is one fundamental thing that inspires me to boldly state that I firmly believe that when the 2030 edition of Our World is published by New Europe, the world would be in a better state than it is today. Our youth.
41% of the world’s population, just under 3.2 billion people, are yet to light the candles on their 25th birthday cakes. Just one of many of them is a diminutive 17 year old Swedish teenager called Greta Thunberg, who took the world, including Davos by storm last year. While opinions on her methods have their fervent fans and fevered critics, nobody can deny her message that “No one is too small to make a difference”. Her simple civil crusade has inspired school strikes in over 150 countries across the world and made government leaders sit up and take notice, bringing climate back at the top of the agenda.
Her impact was very personally made real to me. While driving my kids to school one morning, my 7 year old son asked me “Dad, why are you driving this car and us to school. Greta says that it is YOU who is destroying our planet by putting carbon in the atmosphere.” After being initially stunned, we had a very serious conversation on this and agreed that we would bicycle down to their school instead, at least a few days each month. It has caused me to reflect on my own choices in using plastics, opting for trains and public transport and working to reduce my carbon footprint. I feel the urge to do more personally every day.
There is no force stronger than our children to change us. Imagine 10 more Gretas, or a 100 more Gretas, inspiring these 3.2 billion young people to bring about positive change and reform, rapidly and uncompromisingly, on matters that previous generations have dithered on. The world would and likely will be a changed and better place.
As we look ahead my prediction is that our young people are going to bring about 3 B.I.G changes to our world:
As digital natives, young people are naturally comfortable with technology. As we boost STEM education in schools and universities, something our company plays a strong role in with programmes across the world, millions of new children are being inspired into careers in technology. They will embrace new technologies like Artificial Intelligence and use them to create better outcomes in terms of health, education and public services for our society. Our Chairman, Mr. N. Chandrasekaran, has recently written a book called Bridgital Nation, in which he estimates that 30 million new jobs can be created and enhanced by 2025 by adopting technology strategically. Afresh wave of young entrepreneurs are already charting this future and will use technology to solve some of our most pressing challenges.
A study we had done a few years ago with ThinkYoung, which was the largest such research of its kind across 15 European countries, showed that more than 50% of young people were actively using social media and online campaigns to lobby for change on issues of importance for them. As social media becomes a force multiplier, a new generation, impatient for change, is already forcing companies, government and institutions to reevaWluate their behavior and purpose. At Davos this year the main topic of self-reflection is on how to drive a new version of capitalism – stakeholder capitalism, where companies serve a purpose beyond profits. We will hold a session on this with our partner BrandFinance next week in Davos to drive the conversation forward.
Whatever the future holds, its color is undeniably green. Not only is climate indentified by WEF as the greatest risk of our times, it has fast become the number issue which our young people care about. The political and social change this is driving, will only accelerate with time. Companies that do not check their carbon footprints, will find that young consumers will choose to not buy their products, in favor of brands that make products from recycled material or environment friendly practices. Governments that ignore this will find themselves eventually voted out of power. The recent, unprecedent and yet unfolding tragedy in Australia, where bushfires have burned down 186,000 square kilometers (an area half the size of Germany) and led to countless loss of animal life, will likely see a massive change in sentiment in that country and perhaps across the globe.
India’ most inspirational historical figure, Mahatma Gandhi, said “Be the change you wish to see in this world.” I have no doubt that our young people aim on doing just that.