Twenty-five years ago, I had a choice: build on the studies I had just finished in medical biology with a PhD, or take the chance to go to business school. Both options were great: a career in research at a world-class university, or the chance to learn business from some of the brightest commercial minds available. It was a world of opportunity.
Today across Europe, I see more than a quarter of young people unemployed. Talent on this scale cannot be allowed to go to waste. Many young people understand technology; they are optimistic, energetic and flexible; and they embrace a spirit of dynamism and creative destruction. This mindset is necessary for companies that wish to combine their competence to nourish, protect and improve performance.
Unfortunately, the youth voice is largely absent from global decision-making platforms. But there are projects to address this. That is why I support the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum. This worldwide network consists of young people, aged between 20 and 30 years, who are dedicated to dealing with the world’s most pressing challenges: improving the state of the world and shaping the future. The community has 200 city-based “Hubs” (and counting) across the world and Global Shapers are empowering each other to realize their dreams for a better world.
In the Amsterdam Shapers Hub, where I am involved as mentor for 25 Shapers, it is a privilege to take part in their meetings, share my vision and learn how this talented group will take their actions one step further. They come from business, government, science and the arts, and their projects energize me.
In its first project, the Hub supported the Amsterdam homeless newspaper Z! with funding and advice on a future-proof business model. With connectivity and cooperation as key strengths, these future leaders are already setting the example. Other projects they are involved in have to do with promoting a viable lifestyle by making popular events more ecological, developing new models for education on sustainable energy, enhancing the value of new scientific innovations and new models to engage employees and employers in society.
For CEOs like me, it is important to engage with tomorrow’s leaders, such as the Shapers. It gives hope that the leaders of tomorrow are actually participating in finding solutions to the world’s issues. They also inspire me with their new way of working and thinking. In the dialogue between today’s and tomorrow’s leaders, powerful ideas and motivation emerge. This enables us to better address the global challenges we face and truly create a brighter future for people today and generations to come.
The lesson is simple: outdated structures must adapt – those that resist are condemned.
Author: Feike Sijbesma is the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Royal DSM, a € 10 billion global life sciences and materials sciences company.
Photo: A women walks with her bike in a huge bicycle shed near Central Station Amsterdam, The Netherlands. REUTERS/Reuters Staff