While awaiting the Report from the Caribbean Congress for Adolescent and Youth Health (CCAYH) which was the focus of the GOFAD blog last week (18-09-19), it is important to note that two events involving youth in Washington DC are worth highlighting. The first at the IMF-World Bank Annual meetings (October 14-19 ), involved Generation Z (born 1997-2012) The other focused on Millennials sponsored by Brookings Institution and the Millennial Action Program (22-09-19). The issues that formed the basis of discussions at these events are worth considering by Caribbean Youth in their quest for rebranding and transforming youth leadership.
“How Millennials think differently about Climate Change and Debt?” was the theme of the Brookings Institution event. It struck a chord especially since the debt issue, so important to the Caribbean, has hardly been mentioned in the conversations of Caribbean Youth Leaders. As in the case of Climate Change, unless urgent corrective action is taken, debt is likely to be a major burden to Millennials, GenZ and future generations. At the end of 2018 debt is above 60 percent of GDP in 12 Caribbean Countries. ( CBD annual report, 2018).
The National Debt and Future Prospects: Playing with Fire
At Brookings, based on extensive surveys, the National Debt in the US was deemed to be significant even though it did not rise to same level of urgency as climate change. Millennials associated the consequence of debt accumulation which is now US$23 Trillion as integrally linked to rising cost of education and high levels of student loan debt, as well as the sustainability of social security. These issues will tend to affect their economic prospects due among other things, to high debt service of student loans with effects on their standards of living. Recognition was given to the fact that the Generation X, preceding Millennials, experienced the Great Depression but were better able to cope with navigating difficult times. This was due to the nature of the economic recovery and the role of the state. Now, the national debt combined with inflation, slow growth, the rising cost of housing, unemployment and underemployment are compounding factors with adverse effects on readiness for retirement. And even more so in the opinion of one of the panelists “more of the pay checks of Millennials are going to service the growing national debt while the prospects of living a life of dignity in old age are being threatened”.
Despite these ominous trends, the public policy debate on debt does not get the traction that Climate Change does. For Millennials, the challenge is getting individuals engaged in issues for which the impact is many years in the future. For governments, the enormous debt is too big to tax their way out of it.
One of the major lessons to be drawn from the dialogue at Brookings is the need to make fiscal matters real by illustrating the personal consequences and engaging in financial literacy. It requires transparency in establishing the causes and effects and 'teeing up' the fiscal debate in the public sentiment to drive public policy. The Millennium Action Project (MAP) provides a useful model for taking action based on research and tracking public opinion.
Climate Crisis evokes a sense of urgency: Framing the Future is Essential
A Brookings Survey (2019), done as part of the Millennial Action Program (MAP) demonstrated that Millennials recognize that they are at the point of no return “as the first generation to see the effects of Climate Change and the last with a chance to do something about it”. Aware that Climate Change Science is saying “act now to protect the health of future generations”, MAP has developed a module which illustrates the options for framing Climate Action by efficacy i.e. investing in solving problems urgently. This includes recognizing the urgency in taking action with either (a) low efficacy that leads to negative outcomes and (b) high efficacy that leads to optimal outcomes.
The IMF-World Bank session (October 15), IMF inspired Generation Z: Finding its Voice was informative. It focused on a series of issues including adolescent health, rights to health, physical and mental and child marriage referred to by one of the speakers as "pedophilia". On climate change they blame Millennials for the poor state of the environment which they have left them.
GenZ is much more diverse than Millennials based on race and ethnicity. They are less religiously affiliated. Malala Yousafzai, Co-Founder of the Malala Fund, and Aya Mouallem, Women Deliver Young Leader, advocate, for bringing knowledge and passion and are eager to see social change now. They admit to a challenge to get decision-makers to take them seriously and to directly engage young people in the policies and programs that affect their lives. They have messages to world leaders on the power of meaningful youth engagement. They have examples and anecdotes that demonstrate this power.
Significant is the charge by Malala Yousafzai: “First, to young people: you don’t need to wait for someone in power to give you permission or even listen to you to be an activist. You can begin by educating yourself on issues, educating others and organizing in your community. Get some momentum and try to make advocates out of everyone you meet. As for political leaders, I would say that they should have noticed by now that this generation is ready to speak out, write, lead, march, vote on issues important to them. You can ignore us once or twice, but we’ll keep coming back. And when you are gone we’ll knock on the door of whoever comes next.”
Some Takeaways for Transformative Leaders
The voice for rebranding and transforming youth leadership that resonates beyond the Halls of the IMF and the World Bank is that of 18 year old Natasha Mwansa from Zambia. Her pedigree and the relevance of her message are fully illustrated in the video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xYh9Rk-P48