May 9, 2018

Solving the World’s Problems through the Ingenuity of Youth

written by Steven Lang

The Global Education and Skills Forum (GESF), sponsored and hosted by the Varkey Foundation, has established itself as the pre-eminent global education conference.

Each year, thousands gather in the host city of Dubai. At the 2018 conference, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Lewis Hamilton, Jennifer Hudson, Al Gore, Charlize Theron, Mo Farah, and Tony Blair attended. The best of the education sector, from every corner of the world, were also there. But the real stars of the show were teachers, who work tirelessly every day to inspire young minds, and amazing young entrepreneurs, who are using what they’ve learned to find innovative solutions that make the world a better place.

Preparing Young People for the World of 2030 and Beyond

The 2018 GESF conference theme—how to prepare the world’s young people for the world of 2030 and beyond—is surely one of the most pressing questions of our time. It’s a question that businesses, NGOs, and schools around the world are wrestling with. Answering it successfully will mean the difference between success and failure for young people, so it’s no understatement to say that our collective future prosperity depends on how well we prepare young people for the future of jobs.

At a breakout session hosted by JA Worldwide, we discussed the future of school partnerships: How businesses, NGOs, and educators can form more effective partnerships to unlock the talent of the world’s young people. It was clear from the session that the education sector is open to meaningful engagement of businesses, NGOs, and other government agencies. What is less clear is whether businesses are ready for a new type of collaboration, driven by collective purpose rather than short-term financial results.

This opportunity for education collaboration is thrown into even sharper focus when set against the context of increasing social and environmental awareness of the world’s young people. As consumers, employees, and voters, “purpose” is central to how youth behave. Businesses that fail to respond to this generational shift will struggle to build trust, secure new talent, and grow their companies.

Perhaps what is surprising, then, is the absence and voice of big business at GESF. Whilst attracting big business isn’t the primary goal of the conference, without the presence of large corporations, we’re reminded of how far apart the worlds of big business and schools truly are, especially when each so clearly recognizes the importance of collaboration and partnerships in solving the systemic issues of our times.

Unprecedented Business Disruption Offers Unprecedented Challenges

Businesses of all sizes in all sectors are facing disruption on an unprecedented scale, driven by advances in technology and the need to develop more sustainable products, business models, and value chains. The scale of this transformation is daunting and naturally raises concerns about the future of work and the uncertain nature of jobs for which we are preparing the world’s young people.

Yet this business transformation also provides the ideal opportunity for educators to help young people:

1) Cultivate entrepreneurial capacity;
2) Think in systems;
3) Work in collaboration with diverse stakeholder groups;
4) Consider the social and environmental impacts or business activity as well as financial, and,
5) Solve complex problems creatively through experimentation and prototyping.

If ever there were a list of skills that enable young people to thrive in a disruptive age, these five categories give us a place to start.

While many businesses are increasing their investments in enabling youth—through mentoring and work shadowing, funding nonprofits, and providing innovation challenges— some have not yet fully grasped the enormous value that can be created by immersing young people in the systemic innovation that is needed to deliver the 2030 Global Goals. Throughout the world, schools have an acute need for new partnership models that better nurture the ingenuity of young minds.

Putting Young People at the Heart of Changing the World

There are signs that these new models are beginning to emerge. One is a ground-breaking strategic partnership between JA Worldwide and InSpring, which puts the world’s young people at the heart of addressing one of the biggest environmental challenges of our times.

With the support of the C&A Foundation, the Copenhagen Fashion Summit, and the Bangladesh Textiles Industry, InSpring and JA will turn our attention over the next three years to the challenges of the fast-fashion industry—and the catastrophic textile waste it produces—and focus on the need to develop sustainable models for fashion production and consumption.

Young people care about social and environmental impact as much as they’re engaged by fashion. This reality gives the fashion industry a unique opportunity to accelerate transformation toward sustainability. Our partnership creates an educational opportunity borne from an industry systemic imperative, and we can’t wait to see how young people tackle the challenges we’ll be curating.

If you’re in any doubt about the creative capacity of young people to solve the great problems of our times, consider the inspiring story of Emma Yang.

Emma began coding at the age six, and then went on to invent a facial recognition app for Alzheimer’s sufferers to better recall family and friends through mobile devices. Now fourteen, she’s CEO of her own company. What drove Emma? The desire to help her grandmother.

Likewise, a UK startup called Chatterbox which won the inaugural Next Billion Ed Tech Prize at this year’s GESF, has invented an app to connect refugees with meaningful language-teaching opportunities in their destination countries, helping them get established while unlocking their talent in an imaginative way.

These are two examples of what young people can do when there is a meaningful social purpose, a challenge, and the need for creativity. Now we’re setting young people loose to solve the fast-fashion challenge.

We believe models such as the JA Worldwide–InSpring partnership for engaging young people in world-changing initiatives will benefit the industries that participate by creating a new channel for them to engage with a purposeful generation of consumers and future employees. At the same time, these companies are inspiring, enabling, and empowering young people and preparing them for the future of jobs.

Everyone benefits.