To paraphrase Einstein, you can’t solve a problem using the same type of thinking that created it. When you consider this bit of wisdom alongside the scale of the problems we’re facing around the world, it’s clear that our current model of leadership sorely needs a refresh. Everywhere we look, we see leaders with high IQs making terrible decisions — government shutdown, anyone? — burned out and unable to tap into their own wisdom.
That’s why I’m here in Johannesburg to join a conversation among a group of 1,300 young leaders from all over the world who are every day solving problems in their communities. Being with them restores my faith in leadership.
One Young World was founded in 2009 by David Jones and Kate Robertson, fueled by the belief that young people are in the best position to upend our leadership status quo. Kate especially brings a unique perspective to this challenge, having grown up in a South Africa defined at once by apartheid’s injustices and by the transformative leadership of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
On Friday, I’ll be participating in a panel focused on the global youth unemployment crisis, which, not surprisingly, One Young World has identified as an urgent priority. Seventy-six percent of One Young World community members think youth unemployment is insufficiently addressed in their country. In South Africa, youth unemployment hovers near 50 percent — nearly twice that of the country’s overall rate — leaving far too many young people in a vicious cycle of frustration and lost opportunities. As Chad Harding, a young man from Cape Town, told the BBC, “It’s very hard to find work when you are young. They want people with skills and experience, but I couldn’t afford to study to get more qualifications and, as I wasn’t working, I couldn’t get the skills.”
One Young World’s motto is “where young leaders start leading,” and since its first summit in 2010, there’s been a tremendous ripple effect, with One Young World Ambassadors taking what they’ve learned back to where they live and work, improving lives by working toward solutions in areas ranging from the environment to health to interfaith dialogue. Since a key part of One Young World’s mission is to highlight examples from around the world of what is working when it comes to young people creating their own employment opportunities and extending opportunities to others, we’ll be introducing a group of ambassadors from a range of countries — the UK, Burundi, France, Mexico, Nigeria and China. I’ll be introducing James Eder, a 30-year-old English entrepreneur who, with his brother Michael, co-founded studentbeans.com, a site that is helping thousands of students find jobs, internships and funding for their projects. Among the other young leaders here are Ashish Damle, who has led an anti-tobacco awareness drive across India; Mohamed Camara, who has enrolled more than 600 disadvantaged children in schools across Nigeria through scholarships, educational programs and school construction; and David Russo, an American working with Siemens and Engineers Without Borders to build a state-of-the-art medical clinic in Peru.
On Saturday morning, I’ll be joining my fellow members of the B Team in a conversation about how our leaders can move beyond Plan A — aka the status quo, with its obsession with quarterly earnings and short-term growth — to a Plan B that prioritizes people and planet alongside profit. Founded by Richard Branson and Jochen Zeitz, the B Team is committed to helping leaders avoid the missteps that have led to so many of our current self-inflicted crises, urging leaders to go beyond token gestures to real sustainability and to leverage business and entrepreneurship to change the world. As David Jones put it in his book Who Cares Wins, “The most successful companies of the future will be those whose leaders make sure their internal reality matches their external appearance and that put doing the right thing at the core of the business.”
The other inaugural members of the B Team are microfinance pioneer Muhammad Yunus, Unilever CEO Paul Polman, Indian businessman Ratan Tata, Kering CEO François-Henri Pinault, United Nations Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin, Sudanese-British telecommunications entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim, Brazilian social entrepreneur Guilherme Leal, Zimbabwean businessman Strive Masiyiwa, the Arison Group’s Shari Arison, Broad Group China Chairman and Founder Zhang Yue, and Nigeria’s Coordinating Minister of the Economy and Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. As Yunus said, referring to the young leaders’ ability to make a difference in the world, “The distance between possible and impossible is shrinking.”