One Young World - the Odyssey

One Young World. 196 countries. One hundred and ninety six countries. Allow me to repeat that one more time; 1-9-6. That’s a lot of countries. Depending on who you ask, that’s pretty much every country in the world.

A lot of countries.

1300 young people. Young leaders. Young human beings who want the world of 2026 to be better than the world of 2016. Not only “want” it to be better, but most of whom are actively fighting each and every day to ensure that becomes a reality.

When you have six passionate people at one table, passionate people representing Guatemala, Japan, India, Mexico, Canada, South Africa (or any permutation of 196 countries) – you have possibility. What are the shared experiences of such vastly different countries? How can they challenge each other on media-led misconceptions? How can their vastly different perspectives demystify worldwide wicked problems? How can their networks be forged together to create a global super-force for good?

When you have young people from across the globe, passionate, awakened, hungry – you have possibility.

That was One Young World.

We should start thinking "What world do you want to see?" What world would you create if you could? What world do you want to shape your life for? This thought was inspired by Professor Muhummad Yunus – a crazy man, crazy enough to follow his crazy beliefs and actually impact millions of lives because of it. Imagine thinking that a poor Bangladeshi uneducated woman can turn a $300 loan into a flourishing family business. Imagine being even crazier and giving that loan out, unsecured, without any intentions of getting anything back for it. Imagine doing it over and over again. That’s madness.


What can that teach us? If he can be crazy and follow his crazy convictions, why can’t we?

What is so crazy about envisioning the world we want to see and putting the steps in place to bring the world there? Surely we are not powerless and confined to living a shackled life? Surely we can imagine change, structure our lives around change, and bring change?

I believe we can. I believe many of us will.

There is something special about the notion of ‘different’. Different intrigues. Different entices. Different is mystery. Different is scarce because it is finite compared to that which we have grown accustomed. And we all know the power of scarcity. Beyond that, however, different begets different – if we expose ourselves to others with perceptions different to ourselves, we are forced to view life differently – to have information from all angles before forming an opinion.

Different is powerful. I had breakfast with ridiculously cool people from Albania and Hong Kong. I spent countless hours bonding with incredible guys from Japan and Guatemala. I had an amazing dinner with funny and inspiring (in equal measure) young change-makers from Canada, Argentina, Thailand, Switzerland and India. It was different. It was eye-opening. Through this experience reveals the power of travel. The power of exposing ourselves to the notion of ‘different’. Different countries, systems, structures, processes, cultures, people, and opinions – Imagine the potential.

Embrace different – let different ignite something in you.

Meeting new people is difficult. Nobody likes clichés. “Nice to meet you.” “Mucho gusto”. “Muito prazer”. “What do you do?” “What are you studying?” Same old pleasantries, small talk, platitudes, the need to impress. Some people like to be guarded stone-cold-shells until you have peeled them away. That works for some, it’s even cultural for many. However, I have seen intangible but very real value in some level of vulnerability. Exposing full personality and sense of humour early on in conversation is key to building a genuine connection. Show who you are and others will show who they are. Networking situations can be very tense, forced or awkward. Most are reluctant to take the mask off first. If we are bold enough to take that step, others will follow our lead, and a connection is accelerated.

Want to catalyse an acquaintanceship into a friendship in just a few minutes? Simply be real and connect – that’s what life is about.

It appears many ambitious young people face the opportunity cost problem. What if I study or accept a job overseas? Great for career but terrible for existing relationships. What's more important? What if I am a CEO? Great to impact but difficult as a family man. What if I am a great husband? Difficult to be a great CEO too? Why have so many top leaders in society cheated on their loved ones? I don’t want to be at risk of an empty adulterous life if it means being a top-level influencer. Can you only be a great family person or a great career person? I don't have any answers.

As young people, budding young leaders, we must ponder this question, grapple with every dimension of it, because I fear all too often that I will measure my life by the incorrect things, if incorrect measurements even exist. Do we want to be admired by many and loved by few? Or do we want to be loved by many and admired by few? Is that an entirely misguided way of even looking at it? Is it perhaps more about how many and how deeply we have loved? Do we want to measure our impact by the depth of our influence or the volume of our influence?

Inequality. The great bane of society’s existence. If you look at any civil war, any rebel faction, and any uprising, the common root cause seems to always be directly or indirectly the result of socioeconomic inequality. We solve this, we solve a lot. How do we do this without becoming an oppressive shackled communist society? I wish I was more answer than question. Alas, I hope someone much smarter than me reads this and has the solution.

One final life-thing that has come to me since One Young World is this – I’m not sure it is possible to be truly happy unless all key facets of your life are pulling in the same direction. Remember earlier I spoke of structuring our lives towards the world we want to create? If we have a particular passion and we commit the vast majority of our days contrary to that passion – how are we supposed to feel fulfilled, and how are we supposed to create that world we envision?

I have been and will continue to grapple with many of these until the day I leave this planet. One Young World also touched on the not-so-small matters of refugees, extremism, peace and security, education, global business, gender equality, LBGTQ and mental health too. Some would say that was the whole point of the Summit. I always knew the world was a complex place. This experience made me realize the world is a very complex place.   

To close off, I think the greatest realization of many realizations is this:

It doesn’t have to be my fight to fight the fight. I am busy. Self-absorbed and consumed by daily routine. But I am privileged and there is a lot I can do with that.

I am male, but I can combat gender inequality.
I am white, but I can combat racism.
I am heterosexual, but I can combat homophobia.
I am not directly affected by extremism, nor am I directly affected by many of the social issues of this world.
If those not affected step up for those that are, we, as a society, can make major steps, strides, leaps forward.

We are often frustrated by the political landscape in our respective countries, but One Young Wold revealed to me how we, as young people with bold convictions, have the power to create change.

So let’s leverage the network effect. Let’s catalyse each other’s projects and passions into progress. 


Jordan Stephanou is an Ambassador representing South Africa. He is working in Private Banking at Investec. He is also the co-founder of nibbl, a tech start-up which seeks to add value to restaurants by improving logistical efficiency, increasing table turnover, saving them money on stock, and improving customer retention.