Around the world there is growing awareness of the need for innovations in economic, social, and political organization for several reasons:
Ø End of the cold war – political liberalization and democratic development: The stakes are higher than ever before in human history. Never before has humanity had as much capacity to create, transform, manipulate, dominate, and eliminate ourselves and other living beings. This means increased vulnerability, increased opportunity, and increased gravity of the situation.
Ø Increasing complexity: Human life has always been a struggle against complexity and chaos, yet something is remarkably different about the times we are in now. Our new complexity stems from our unprecedented capacity to create, transform, and destroy; from the size of the human population and its increasing spread across the globe; from the scale of the problems and opportunities we have created; from the increasingly ubiquitous manifestation and evolution of human creations; and from the increasingly intricate and vast number of connections between all of the above.
Ø Interdependence and diversity: Closely linked to complexity is our increasing interdependence. There is growing awareness and recognition that we need to make the most of this interdependence. At the same time a growing body of evidence demonstrates that human systems, like other natural systems, depend on diversity and processes to balance diversity.
Ø Young people understand and act: Thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of children and youth have a profound awareness of the state of the world. They take action as a result and in some cases have global impact. From New Delhi to Toronto, Michigan to Dakar, Stockholm to Asuncion, people as young as 8 years of age have taken on causes and begun to make a difference.
Ø Liberalization and the spread of democracy: The fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war marked a clear transition to a new era in political affairs that has been extensively documented. In Latin America, parts of Asia, and the former Soviet Union, liberalization is shown by growth in the number of organizations, programs, experts, and funds allocated to political liberalization, to democratic development, to reengineering and modernization of the state, to strengthening social capital and participation etc. On another level, people in China, the Philippines, South Africa, Mexico, Paraguay, the former Yugoslavia, and other countries have recently made more dramatic struggles for self-determination and liberalization. Young people have been active, in several cases, primary actors, in these vast national movements for social change—notable cases include Serbia, the Philippines and Paraguay, with China in the late 1980s serving as a dramatic counterpoint.
Ø Political reform in OECD nations: The western nations are perceived to have advanced, successful political systems. However, in these nations, as well as in the private sector, the pressure and the effort to “reengineer government/management” have been high on the agenda. Forward-thinking leaders also acknowledge that the political systems of the western nations will look different in the next few decades as a result of the transition to a post-industrial era, the multiple revolutions that accompany this transition, and the various geopolitical, demographic, and environmental forces underway. Correspondingly, some of the clearest and most innovative manifestoes for innovation in political organization come from young people.
Ø Networks, lobbies, and citizen movements: Concrete change underway is visible through the exponential growth of associations, networks, lobbies, citizen movements, and other cross-sector, cross-issue, and increasingly regional and transnational coalitions of people and organizations unifying around common causes. Youth networks and movements are no exception. Just as the 1980s and 1990s were decades that saw the emergence of global citizen movements around gender, the environment, and landmines, this decade and the next will be indelibly marked by the growth of global youth movements which will draw from, and in turn, feed into, these broader citizen movements.
Ø Non-profits and social entrepreneurship: The explosive growth of the non-profit sector and of social entrepreneurship in the past two decades is also evidence of the reorganization of society that is underway. The next years will see big changes in non-profits as the same forces that have been transforming governments and the private sector catch up with civil society. Technology, competition, reduced budgets for social spending, and other related factors are already forcing non-profits to streamline, to reorganize, to form strategic alliances, to redefine structures, and to seek competitive advantage and market niches more accurately. The demands for greater efficiency, transparency, and accountability made by non-profits to governments, businesses, and international organizations is already coming back and demanding the same of non-profits. People at all levels are calling for organizations to be more accountable, especially in non-OECD nations where NGOs can often have more power than local governments. In this sector young people are innovators and pioneers of change, though the barriers to startup non-profits are high.
Ø Private enterprise and Corporate Social Responsibility: Corporations have become a chief target of blame for many contemporary problems. As the debate grows different strategies are emerging to address this challenge including social investing, social and environmental auditing, natural capitalism and more.
Growing concern on issues of global governance is legitimate and urgent
Ø A global social contract: For the first time in history the social contract from specific nations and groups is being expanded to encompass humanity as a whole, perhaps even non-human life and natural resources.
Ø Reforming Bretton Woods and the United Nations: Reoccurring failures of international financial institutions and systems of global government are motivating reform at unprecedented levels. The failure of Argentina’s economy in the face of IMF research and prescriptions has put the legitimacy of the organization and whole system of external debt in question. The failure of the UN to impede Israeli occupation of Palestine and US advances on Iraq has put the legitimacy of the organization and its mandate in question as well.
The young, their elders, and social change: All processes of social evolution or revolutions have a component of inter-generational tension. Historically this has always been the case. Generation after generation the “establishment” goes to “war” with new players before change is fully accepted. Are conditions in place for inter-generational tension or collaboration on a large scale, in all corners of the world?
The geopolitics of youth
Around the world young people around the world have less access to opportunities than older people. There is a serious gap in expectations which can lead to resentment. On every continent there are serious issues surrounding youth that go unattended. At the same time the ineffectiveness of the system coupled with the barriers to participation and expression can lead to protest and even violence. Until the issues impacting youth are addressed and the systems of participation are improved young people will protest the status quo.
• The world population reached six billion people in 1999
• 85% of the 1.2 billion young people worldwide, ages 15-25, live in developing nations
• 500 million young people live on less than $2 per day
• There are 100 million street children in the world
• There are 186 million child laborers under 15 worldwide
• 171 million children ages 5-17 work in hazardous conditions worldwide
• 8.4 million children are involved in the worst forms of child labor as defined by ILO Convention 182, Art. 3
• 1 million young people die each year due to preventable causes
• The World Health Organization estimates that 70% of premature deaths among adults are largely due to behavior initiated during adolescence, such as smoking and HIV contraction
• 10 million youth live with HIV/AIDS
On child labor: http://www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/ipec/simpoc/others/globalest.pdf
On population: http://www.cnie.org/billion/
On health: http://www.who.int/child-adolescent-health/New_Publications/ADH/2_Decade.pdf
On street children: http://www.casa-alianza.org/EN/street-children/
On youth and aids: http://www.unicef.org/pubsgen/aids/AIDSen.pdf
On youth and war: http://www.child-soldiers.org/report2001/global_report_contents.html
Ø Young people are leading political revolutions, social change movements, and important issue based organizations
Ø They are leaders of student movements and others social movements – locally and nationally
Ø At the global level youth are leaders in the anti-globalization protests and movements as well as within established public, private, and non-profit organizations.
Ø In many societies young people can afford to take risks that adults cannot
The costs and opportunities of reforming, or of failing to reform, political and governmental institutions from within must be carefully assessed. A critical factor to consider is the stock of leadership capital, in quantity and quality. Around the world newly elected or appointed staff - many of them young people - who enter international institutions and government agencies that influence and define policy end up in one of the following positions:
1) Becoming a part of the system instead of changing it and perhaps opting for a) apathy, b) cynicism, pessimism, bitterness, c) negative idealism (aggression, violence, terrorism) or d) criminality.
2) Choosing to change the system, providing good leadership, and perhaps opting for idealism.
It is important to recognize that young people are are potential terrorists, warriors, soldiers, and criminals or potential saints, saviors, and leaders.