When I talk to our 214 new members of the Young Global Leaders community, some common traits stand out. These people – all under the age of 40 – grew up with digital connectivity. Most have lived, studied or worked in multiple countries, and see themselves as global citizens.
They have an entrepreneurial approach to creating change. Their instinct isn’t to wait for decisions from formal authority, but to reach out to their networks, start movements and build coalitions. They view leadership as distributed, not linear. They can bridge cultures and make connections between issues and institutions. The engage and collaborate across public, private and civil society sectors.
Above all, there is a re-emerging sense of ethics and values, of responsibility to the global commons – an attitude that it’s not sufficient to make a great product or have a good career if it doesn’t have a larger meaning. There is real hope that this rising generation will be able to mend the widespread broken public trust in leadership, both governmental and corporate.
Membership in the Young Global Leaders community promises to be a personally transformative experience for the class of 2014, challenging them to turn their influence into impact and transform their success into significance through initiatives and innovations both small and large.
Examples of large-scale collaboration among previous Young Global Leaders include Deworm The World, which has helped 40 million kids to succeed in school by treating parasitic worm infections; the Global Dignity Initiative, through which leaders in over 50 countries talk to high school students about the human right to lead a dignified life; and Table For Two, which tackles obesity by encouraging healthy meals that subsidize school meals for malnourished children.
In addition, there are individual initiatives: last year, a group of Young Global Leaders launched Tau Investment, with the tagline “Capitalist solutions to capitalism’s failures”, to work with large companies on improving labour conditions and environmental impact in their supply chains. The concept grew out of discussions involving bankers, hedge fund managers, environmental campaigners and investigative journalists. It’s hard to imagine any other platform in the world that could have enabled individuals from such diverse backgrounds to spend time together and figure out how to pool their talents.
This year’s cohort of Young Global Leaders likewise comes from many walks of life, spanning government, business, civil society and the arts. What connects them is their reach, demonstrating that domain leadership in today’s world can come from anywhere. Liu Qiangdong, for example, founded one of China’s leading online retailers as a work-around during the SARS crisis, but it has helped to expand the country’s middle class.
Brooke Ellison is a champion of stem cell research in America: paralysed from the neck down by a car accident, she works to evolve both public opinion and policy to support scientists in a field that offers hope to millions of people with spinal cord injuries. Hanli Prinsloo is a record-breaking freediver from South Africa, whose documentary films and ocean encounters are raising awareness of the destruction of life in our oceans.
Hosain Rahman runs Jawbone, which is producing UP, a wristband that monitors how a person eats, moves and sleeps, and sends analysis to their smartphone to help them make better health decisions. René Redzepi’s acclaimed restaurant, Noma, is popularizing the locavore movement, sourcing products locally to make feeding the planet more sustainable.
The list goes on, as does the diversity. Of all the World Economic Forum’s communities, the Young Global Leaders community is probably the most diverse: this year’s intake alone comes from 66 countries. More than half are women. They represent the changing face of leadership, which gives me hope for our world: global citizens, entrepreneurial and engaged, and at ease traversing cultures and sectors, using their experience and talents for the greater public good.
David Aikman is Managing Director at the World Economic Forum
Image: Some of the new members of the Young Global Leaders community. Find out about all 214 new YGLs here.