Gen Y Can Influence Change in Leadership and Governance

Ambassador from UK, Charlie Oliver on the Leadership and Government Plenary Session at this year's Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa.


Follow Charlie on Twitter: @rlieoliver


Leadership and government was one of the six topics we discussed at last month’s One Young World Summit in Johannesburg. It was arguably the most important Plenary because it showed that many of the other issues we discussed like youth unemployment, the absence of human rights and inadequate education were really the consequence, in the words of Sir Bob Geldof, of “a chronic lack of leadership.”

Youth unemployment levels cannot be wholly improved without effective policy by national governments, nor education in our schools that needs to adapt to the requirements of the 21st century. Arguably, global business will struggle to become more responsible without an element of legislative steer too.


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The Impact of Weak Leadership and Governance

Overall, it became clear that weak leadership and governance was as deep and as global a problem as the other issues we discussed at the Summit. As a result, the core challenge that we identified was that Gen Y’ers were being marginalised by the status quo. Riley Wyman and Ahmad Alhendawi argued that in many cases this has been mistaken for apathy by today’s political elite and commentators.

Leadership vacuums are seen around the world in developed countries like the USA and developing ones like Venezuela, where Pradiip Alvarez and Liz Alarcon highlighted that opposition politicians have been subjected to beatings in session, and that human rights abuses like murder and a shortage of essential supplies are common.

The impact of leadership vacuums are huge where they exist and crucially often cause spill-over effects into other countries, as we’ve seen with the Syrian crisis in Turkey and Lebanon. The influence of the “fiscal cliff” on the global economy is also an excellent example of this.



Two solutions emerged from the discussion. To tackle the weaknesses of international relations, Daniella Segal and Maysara Al Arabeed powerfully argued for the value of dialogue and knowing each other better. In such a globalised world, it remains true that in most cases our understanding of international cultures is usually minimal at best. Gen Y can take the lead in reforming this.

To influence the way we are governed, our generation must get involved ourselves. Ashish Damle from India stood before us and showed that if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, having successfully been elected in Badlapur at the age of 22. He said, “politics is not a dirty game, there are only dirty players.”

Ioanna Fotopoulou also emphasised the role of an active civil society in underpinning and influencing a change of political mindset. Her work in Greece and The Balkans through the Activests offered a model for us all to follow.

The overriding message that came from the Plenary was loud and clear. Gen Y has to embody the leadership and governance we want to see. We need to ensure that we are representative of our population in terms of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and age; and that we conduct ourselves differently from our leaders today.

Overnight successes will be limited in number, but this should not discourage us. Our leadership and governance systems are well entrenched around the world, often based on established customs and sheltered by favourable legislation. However, with a relentless approach, we can begin to affect change. The benefits may even trickle down to help address the other issues we discussed in Johannesburg.