(By Emmanuel Ojeifo)
“Today, a social media revolution is unfolding before our eyes, forever changing the way people connect in the world. This media revolution is creating platforms, forums and networks for young people to become increasingly interconnected. With the power of technology, young people from across the globe are reporting on youth issues, with an emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. Young social entrepreneurs are partnering with one another and sharing ideas and visions on how they can harness the vitality of young people to create a world in which everyone counts.“
THROUGHOUT human history, men and women have sought to mould the world to their taste and to make it a better place to live. This desire stems from the realisation that we are living in a world of enormous potentials and infinite possibilities, but at the same time a world plagued by huge social problems and enormous new challenges. Last year, the world reached a historic milestone with seven billion people. Of this, 1.8 billion are young people between the ages of 10 and 24. And of this youth population, 90 per cent live in developing countries.
It is no longer news that today’s generation of young people is the largest youth generation in history. Worldwide, we are living with a generation of people who have enormous potentials because they are globally connected, because they have a social consciousness and because they are living in places in the world where they can make a huge difference. Ours is a world that hosts an impressive array of inspiring young people with bustling energy, creativity, restlessness and imagination, and who are ready to make big social impact. By the sheer nature of their individual accomplishments and service to humanity, today’s young people are personifying the time-honoured maxim that young people are the conscience of the world and the drivers of social change. The young people of today are collectively saying: “We want to change the world, and we want to change it for good.”
The emergence of this global youth culture is one of the significant features of the new world order whereby young people of divergent national and social backgrounds, living in far-flung corners of the world are united by the same social habits, dress codes, taste for music and language clichés, and are fans of the same musical and sports celebrities. The wide distinction that was 50 years ago between the dress code and social habits of young people in Johannesburg and Buenos Aires, and the significant difference we had between the kind of music enjoyed by young people in New York, Tehran and Nairobi have all disappeared today, thanks to the revolution in ICT.
Sometime ago, I read an article by David Wraight, a gifted Australian social exponent, public speaker and writer who is the CEO of an international youth advocacy group known as YFCI. In that article, Wraight contends that we are witnessing today the emergence of a globalised generation of youth, often referred to as the Millennial Generation. As globalisation and modern technology continue to shrink our world, we are presented with a new landscape that contains amazing possibilities for world change. People are connecting worldwide as never before— particularly young people— and are overcoming cultural, geographical, language and ethnic barriers with ease. There is an emerging ‘global consciousness’ and young people want to be a part of it. No longer are we talking about one nation of youth being mobilised and empowered, but we now have to grapple with the implications of a ‘globally connected’ youth community mobilising to bring about world change on a scale never seen before.
In offering a catena of the idealisms of this globalised youth generation, Wraight wrote: “They believe that they can change the world for the better, but they are unsure what they should change the world to; so they search for an ideology or system of belief to use as a foundation for the change they seek. They are actually searching for something worth living for and dying for. They are optimistic and idealistic with a deep desire to make their mark in the world…. They are no longer prepared to be spectators watching the world go by, but want to be ‘players’, to get their hands dirty, to make a difference. They are knowledgeable about the affairs of the world and very mobile, travelling as much as resources and opportunity allow.”
We must never take this homogenisation of civilisation for granted. Through it, today’s youth are coming together to devote their lives to common causes. They are no longer satisfied with just being passive spectators. They are often very suspicious of dogmas and averse to rigid traditional rituals. They are generally more existentially inclined. They are hungry for love, for truth, for beauty, for life. They do not want a body of teaching about love simply rammed down their brains. They are looking for real role models who embody these ideals. They want to see practical examples of true love, rather than read lofty treatises on love. They want to see living models of truth among members of the adult society rather than be preoccupied with a grandiose dissertation on truth. And the beauty of it is that they can pick role models across national boundaries because of their interconnectedness to major developments around the globe.
This globalised youth generation continues to grow rapidly, and the challenges it faces are ever more overwhelming. According to Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), “Over the next decade and beyond, if we are to solve the most pressing issues of our time, we need to tap into the dynamism of youth movements and young social entrepreneurs, for they have the potential to disrupt inertia and be the most creative forces for social change. We need to ask ourselves: How can we –– UN agencies, governments, the private sector, NGOs, academia –– empower youth to drive social progress in the developing world through new and innovative projects?”
In responding to questions such as Osotimehin has posed, Wraight advocates what he calls ‘intergenerational relationship’ between the adult generation and the youth generation of today. However, he contends that it is important for us to realise that the most qualified people to reach the youth of the world, are the youth of the world! No matter how much the adult generation may help, their efforts will only remain marginal. In the end, it is a process of ‘youth helping youth.’ For this to be achieved, as Osotimehin argues, “we must first address the widespread misconception that young people shouldn’t have a say when it comes to dealing with the world’s problems. It pains me to see how young people, particularly those living in poverty, are treated as recipients when, in fact, they often know best what is best for themselves.”
The culture of dependency through unnecessary deference to the adult generation which, Osotimehin laments, has resulted in too many young people waiting for outside help instead of unleashing their energies, talents and abilities and taking actions today that will improve their lives in the future. While deference to adult authority can be a very useful tool for youth development, it also can achieve a completely opposite outcome. It can undermine its stated objective by leaving a majority of young people too dependent rather than empowered.
Today, a social media revolution is unfolding before our eyes, forever changing the way people connect in the world. This media revolution is creating platforms, forums and networks for young people to become increasingly interconnected. With the power of technology, young people from across the globe are reporting on youth issues, with an emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media. Young social entrepreneurs are partnering with one another and sharing ideas and visions on how they can harness the vitality of young people to create a world in which everyone counts. Many international organisations that have come to recognise that the youth of today are particularly receptive to social networks are now offering more participatory roles to young people to brainstorm on crucial issues and challenges facing the global human community. In many developing countries, social institutions are placing young people at the cutting edge of change and development priorities, giving them an opportunity to make their voices heard as innovative change makers who can find workable solutions to the world’s developmental challenges.
As a result of the passion, resilience and commitment of today’s generation of young people, a brave new world is taking shape before our very eyes. It is a new world, radically different from the world prophesied by Aldous Huxley in his 1932 book titled, Brave New World. While Huxley predicted the emergence of a world in which big biotechnological revolutions would carry the news of the day, the brave new world we are witnessing today is of another kind. It is a world where young people at the frontiers of global imagination, innovation and positive change are harnessing their remarkable potentials to alter the world around them for the better.
In January, Christine Lagarde, president of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, calling on global economic policymakers and politicians to “reflect on some of the megatrends shaping the future.” Among the four cardinal megatrends highlighted, she gave attention to the seismic shift in demographics that is currently being witnessed in the global youth bulge: “Sixty per cent of the population in the Middle East and North Africa is under 30. It is 70 per cent for sub-Saharan Africa. Again: either a great opportunity or a source of instability.” In Lagarde’s opinion, for us to navigate our way into the future world, global political economy cannot ignore the youth. Inclusive growth is certainly a top priority for global policymakers, and what this portends is that the new global economy will have to be gender inclusive (since women control 70 per cent of global consumer spending), geographically different (because it will be driven more by the dynamic emerging markets and developing countries) and also generationally different (because different values, people and principles will shape it).
Another megatrend shaping today’s brave new world is the rise of young people on the ladder of global finance. According to Forbes 2013 list, of the world’s 1426 billionaires, 29 are young people under the age of 40. This is an exciting combination of money and youth, and we can only really appreciate this new and tectonic shift in global finance when we look back to the last two decades and realise that no single young person, by the standards of today’s age of global financial turbulence, could make the list of the world’s richest people. This striving is what determines how young people are willing to bear tough moments and travel rough roads to reach their destinies.
In this light, engaging young people in addressing global challenges is important because they are at the cutting edge in both using and developing tools in the fields of science, technology and innovation. As engines of growth and human development, young people of today can, with meaningful participation, openness, inclusion and accountability change history with their tremendous audacity and imagination. However, for this to succeed they need economic opportunities. A situation in which close to 100 million young people around the globe – the so-called ‘lost generation’– are without jobs should no longer be tolerated. Young people want the full enjoyment of their political and civil rights and freedoms. Speaking their minds, participating in politics, practicing the religion of their choice and living their lives without any form of discrimination are some of their legitimate aspirations. When these aspirations are realised, they will help transform the world. As UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon told participants at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum in New York in March, “Young leaders have the energy and ideas we need to change our world.”
As a student of human society, I am inquisitive about understanding the broad forces defining our age, and how we can harness the potentials of young people to alter the world for the better. This challenge is not just for young people in other parts of the world. It also applies to young people in Nigeria.
• Ojeifo is a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Abuja.