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Jakarta Post

Young, disruptive still voiceless at Davos

  • Alanda Kariza

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, February 10, 2016   /  04:48 pm

In the past few years, gender parity as an issue has cropped up repeatedly at the annual World Economic Forum (WEF). This year, the WEF organized a couple of sessions on gender parity, with Sheryl Sandberg, a top Facebook executive, the main draw of the discussions.

The forum also saw the launch of a campaign for gender equality, the #HeForShe IMPACT 10x10x10 Parity Report, with British actress Emma Watson convincing 10 male CEOs of global companies to involve themselves in the issue. Even though this year only 18 percent of delegates were women, gender parity is at least considered worthy of discussion.

However, nobody talks about youth at Davos, and that includes the media.

According to a Euromonitor International report in 2012, 50.5 percent of the world'€™s population is aged 30 and below. The percentage is even higher in emerging and developing economies, where 53 percent of the population is under 30, compared with only 35 percent in developed economies.

Yet no session at this year'€™s WEF highlighted the world'€™s '€œyoung population'€, despite plenty of sessions discussing the emerging economies, including China, India, Russia and even ASEAN.

This is quite surprising, considering that the world is set for a '€œdemographic dividend'€, with young and productive-age people making up the majority of the population in countries including Indonesia, which could easily turn into a '€œdemographic loss'€ if not managed well.

It struck me that I, a 25-year-old woman, was the youngest Indonesian ever to attend Davos in 40 years of the WEF Annual Meeting being held there. I traveled as a part of the Global Shapers Community Davos 50, a group of people aged between 20 and 30 invited to '€œrepresent the disruptive voice of young people'€.

On the first day, we had the opportunity to meet Klaus Schwab, the WEF founder, who explained why he had started the Global Shapers Community initiative: '€œto make sure young people are included in the Davos conversations'€.

Yet 50 '€œyoung'€ delegates out of 2,500 is still only 2 percent. Moreover, of roughly 300 public sessions and another 150 private sessions, none highlighted issues specifically affecting the world'€™s young people.

In most sessions, including the all-star panel '€œProgress toward Parity'€ with Canada'€™s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sheryl Sandberg and Melinda Gates among the panelists, 90 percent of the questions came from such young '€œglobal shapers'€ , but panelists did not give satisfactory answers.

Two young attendees are worth highlighting and seem to have helped shape the Davos agenda. One is Amira Yahyaoui, a Tunisian watchdog journalist, who leads a transparency and accountability NGO and who was stateless for a few of her teenage years as a result of her activism. Yahyaoui, who just turned 31, became the youngest ever cochair at the WEF, a few years after she was involved in the Occupy Davos protest in 2012.

Another figure is Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who is the country'€™s youngest-ever minister at only 29 '€” though his comments on Austria'€™s refugee laws are troubling.

Nevertheless, if the '€œdisruption'€ brought about by the 2 percent this year cannot convince the WEF to invite more young people to its annual gatherings, and organize sessions related to the challenges faced by young people in embracing 2030, then I do not know what can.

The writer is director of Sinergi Muda, a youth-run social enterprise behind the Indonesian Youth Conference.