One Young World conference encourages new generation of leaders at world's largest youth gathering

  • @_richardhall

The world is in a terrible mess. Global warming is causing irreversible damage to the environment, poverty and greed is stifling progress and corruption is rife. The solution? It’s time to hand over the reigns to the next generation. 

That is the idea being put forward at the largest youth gathering in the world this week by a crowd of global thinkers — Nobel Prize winners, CEOs, astronauts and former Boomtown Rats among them.

The One Young World conference, now in its fourth year, gathers bright young things from across the world to discuss the big issues of the day. More than 1,200 young people from 190 countries are attending this year’s conference in Johannesburg. Delegates from Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Vietnam and across Africa have been flown in to the continent’s commercial hub for the conference. 

On hand to point the youngsters in the right direction is an impressive group of counsellors: former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, Sir Richard Branson, Ariana Huffington and Bob Geldof, among many others.

Over three days in Johannesburg, the delegates listen to the elder speakers and debate among themselves before breaking off into sessions on the sidelines to flesh out their plots to take over the world. 

Among the perennial issues such as global warming and activism, this year saw discussions on the legacy of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela with Ahmed Kathrada, the a friend of the former South African President with whom he spent many years imprisoned on Robben Island.

There have been discussions on the battle against AIDS in Africa, entrepreneurship with Mr Branson, the war in Afghanistan and violence against women.

Away from the talks,the summit is one giant networking event for young people who would perhaps not have the opportunity to network under normal circumstances.

But the big idea, says One Young World’s co-founder David Jones, is to foster the next generation of world leaders.

“The aim is to create a forum through which these leaders can connect with each other and offer them a platform normally only given to those in power,” he says.

“The idea is that, rather than just being a lone, brilliant 17-year-old, young people can be a One Young World ambassador and connect with others to give even more weight to their ambitions.”

One of the counsellors, Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering of microfinance, lifting millions out of poverty in his native Bangladesh in the process, is more urgent about the matter.

“Many of my colleagues here are telling the young people: ‘you are the future leaders.’  I tell them they are the leaders now.  They need to take over. Our generation had to wait a long time to get as smart as you. They are ready now,” he told The Independent.

“Technology has created a situation where today’s 15-year-old is more ready than 21-year-old of yesterday.”

Sir Bob, a counsellor and early supporter of One Young World, had a similar message.

“My generation has failed more than others. You cannot let your generation fail. The next war will not be a World War 1 or a World War 2, it will be the end,” he told a young crowd at the event’s opening ceremony at the city’s Soccer City stadium on Wednesday.

“Just because you may not believe that progress is possible, that should not prevent you from trying for it,” he said. “The alternative is finality.”