Although talking about youth as the future sounds novel, the reality is that this has been the case all along. One generation takes over from its predecessor. The only difference is demographic: In the current time, youth are more visible, qualitatively and quantitatively. They are also better prepared to assume more effective roles in their societies, thanks to their advanced education, as well as their exposure to modern communication facilities and scientific progressive surge.
And yet and apart from the familiar overused clichés, such as “the youth are the leaders of tomorrow”, “the youth are the future”, “the youth will change the world” and similar platitudes, which may, indeed, be true, our young people, who constitute 1.8 billion of our world’s population, deserve deeper acknowledgment and scrutiny than being reduced to a series of clichés. We live in a very different and fast-changing world today.
Social media has forever changed the way we communicate and made the world a much smaller place, as we are all increasingly interconnected, yet despite this increased interconnectivity, we also live in a world faced with enormous social challenges. A total of 1.8 billion of the world’s population are youth, aged between 10 and 24, the most interconnected generation of all times. We also live in volatile times, rife with instability and conflict.
Many argue that social media and interconnectivity have created a generation of followers, not leaders and a generation engaged and interested only in trivial pursuits. Today’s youth is often accused of being too engrossed in following social media and in self-absorption to be leaders. But social media has been used by young people all over the world to lead, to make change and to hold their seniors to account. In Myanmar, for example, social media has been used to fill the void of their government in fighting hate speech. In the Middle East, the Arab Spring began on social media and helped youth organise an unprecedented revolution that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and other Middle Eastern countries. Young activists, fighting for a variety of causes ranging from human rights to climate change, rely on social media to get their message across. What remains constant amidst all the clichés is the age old question: Who is going to lead the movement for positive change in our world?
In my opinion, the answer is very clear. Throughout history, the most successful movements were organised by the youth, including the civil rights movement and many historical protests against unjust policies, wars and politics were conducted by the youth. Youth movements have always played a major and inevitable role in history all around the world. The reason for this is because young leaders are inspired by ideals rather than trends and they stay true to their ideals, regardless of the cost, never giving up despite the many challenges and obstacles placed in their paths. The same idealistic attitude that often earns them a bad reputation is precisely what makes them good leaders. Whilst it is not uncommon for veteran leaders to lose motivation and simply go through the motions of leadership half-heartedly, having lost faith; young leaders are inspired and push themselves through their uncompromised ideals and motivation to make a positive change for their future. Through these ideals, young leaders are able to exercise authority over themselves and their peers to lead civic engagement and reform. Much falls on the shoulders of youth leaders because it is they who will lead change and pave the way for the future. This can be seen in youth movements all over the world today.
In Jordan, for example, youth leadership is emerging as a significant movement. This is inevitable in a country where the majority of residents are aged between 15 and 35. The future of an overwhelmingly youthful population can only be led by its own youth. This could not be more evident than when Jordan’s 23-year-old Crown Prince Hussein gave a resounding global speech at the UN General Assembly, taking it upon himself to address world leaders to remind them of their duties and responsibilities, addressing his peers and calling on his fellow youth to take ownership of the future into their own hands. Crown Prince Hussein introduced himself as an advocate of the “largest generation of young people in the world.” He is an example of someone for whom youth empowerment is very important, because without it his country cannot thrive. In today’s world, the tables have turned. Patriarchal societies can no longer thrive. It is a new world led by the youth and whose future depends on young leaders because they have the motivation, idealism, skills and the power to do so.
The global youth movement is yet again gaining momentum all around the world. Marches and youth-led revolutions all over the world are becoming the norm. In India and Bangladesh, young girls have led their own movement, defying their parents by demanding their rights and freedom against the practice of child marriage, demanding their right to attend school in safety and not to be forced into underage marriage. In India, young people have been fighting against child labour through youth-led movements. Similar stories can be found all around the world as the youth movement gains force. In the Middle East, the powerful force of the Arab Spring and its association with social media has had a dramatic impact on our region. Young people challenging their governments in a part of the world where freedom of speech is not the norm. Young people, through social media, caused a full-blown revolution in the Arab world that is still ongoing today.
In the US, it is the youth that is leading the movement against gun violence because it is they who are most affected by this violence. After the Parkland School massacre on February 14, a group of students, amongst them survivors and some as young as 11 years old, united by the tragedy of the massacre, took complete charge in organising the “March for our Lives”, an anti-gun violence event in Washington, DC, which was emulated in hundreds of towns and cities across the globe. To push forward their movement entitled “Never Again”, they began contacting politicians to advocate legislative change. They are challenging and holding their government responsible for the safety of children’s lives. These kids are holding their politicians accountable and taking power over who they vote for in order to safeguard their lives and their future. According to these young students, their politicians have failed to control gun violence, failed to protect them and failed to safeguard their generation, so it is up to them to take matters into their own hands and ensure it never happens again. Similar stories can be heard all over the world; young people mobilising, taking matters into their own hands to make positive changes for a better future and a better world.
Far from being apathetic, young people are challenging their governments, holding them accountable and demanding change. Gerontocracy is definitely a thing of the past. However, the two can be reconciled; it is not a case of young people being set against the older generation, it is about mutual needs, benefits and understanding between the two demographics. It is about major changes that need young leaders for them to materialise and it is about shaping the future, which cannot be done without the young generation.
So beneath the familiar clichés, there are very valid reasons as to why they ring true. It is the idealism, the motivation and the ability to not give up and to challenge the status quo that makes young leaders the effective leaders they are.
To put it simply, young people have the power to change the world and they will. They can be the driving force behind the development and peaceful existence of any nation or region.