Justin Keeble and Peter Lacy discuss the importance in harnessing youth power

One wonders whether the average age of participants at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos is rising or falling year on year. But now that we have returned to our day jobs, it’s clear we should be making more of an effort to connect with the young.

There was much discussion about building a more resilient and sustainable growth trajectory in Davos. Three themes struck a chord and will continue to resonate for some time yet:

  • The growing influence of young people, given that over 50% of the world’s population is under 27 years old and rising to 70% in Africa.
  • The dramatic uptake of technology to connect society, with over 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions today and 2.2 billion people connected to the Internet.
  • The continued and sustained strain on the planet’s resources and growing lack of trust in business and governments.

So how are business leaders and heads of state seeing the impact of these three trends? They see an opportunity to harness youth power, especially among the Millennials (those born between 1981 and 1995), not only to increase accountability and the legitimacy of governments but to build greater trust with business and create the essential pull for innovation in new more sustainable products and services.

For example, President Alpha Condé spoke of the youth of Guinea – a quarter of which are now online, actively demanding greater accountability and transparency of natural resources companies in their country. The youth can see mining companies as taking their wealth and will not tolerate it.

Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, argued that young people are demanding a better world. And a poll showed that 82% of global Millennials believe their generation can improve the world. They also see social media as a force for positive change. As a result, Polman called for companies to provide the digital frameworks to allow young people to fulfil these ambitions. Even Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev spoke of the opportunity in Russia for technology to improve the legitimacy of governance by reducing the distance between government and civil society.

The World Economic Forum published a well-received report this week, Engaging Tomorrow’s Consumer, with the support of Accenture. Following the discussions that took place following the launch, we see three actions that businesses should take in response:

  1. Recognize the potential of Millennials: By 2018, their incomes will surpass those of baby boomers. In Asia, the consumer market for urban Millennials will be US$ 6-7 trillion dollars by that time.
  2. Encourage digital collaboration: The youth are impatient in their desire to collaborate with companies to build new products and services; 75% of Indian Millennials say they want to contribute towards improving available products and services.
  3. Drive sustainability into the heart of the brand proposition: Millennials want to be convinced that more sustainable products and services offer greater value: costing less, performing better and matching their social and environmental values.

The data in this article is found in Energizing Global Growth, Understanding the Changing Consumer, published in Davos by Accenture; and Engaging Tomorrow’s Consumer, published by the World Economic Forum with support from Accenture.

Authors: Justin Keeble is Managing Director, Europe, Middle East and Africa, and Peter Lacy is Managing Director, China and Asia Pacific, at Accenture Sustainability Services.

 Image: Students wearing business suits attend a business seminar in Japan REUTERS/Toru Hanai