On youth leadership

“AIESEC is aiming to develop leaders who are socially responsible, entrepreneurial, culturally sensitive, and active learners — young people that are able and determined to bring more development to the world.”

About 2.5 months ago I was sitting in the office in the country where I held my latest role — HR director for AIESEC in Austria — and I read this sentence from the beginning pages of the previous term’s global annual report. It was not the first time I had seen these words, but in this particular time, this sentence struck a chord with me so I wrote it down.

The funny thing is, I had been in the organization — taking different roles, moving to new countries, working with several people from around the world, trying to achieve a result and an impact, having many challenges and struggles — for five years, and I think it took those full five years to fully understand the depth of these words. When I was younger, I was rather emotional and idealistic in my concept of “world” and how to “change it”, without knowing what was actually required, what I could do, and why to even do it in the first place. For me it was just something that sounded cool, and I could devote myself to it.

Now, several years later and many experiences wiser, the words finally made sense. They finally summed up two different but interconnected things for me: what I became as a result of my experiences, and what humanity needs within the context of our conflicts.

My breakdown of the sentence:

leadership: Defined as the action of leading a group of people or an organization, or the ability to do this. The key word here being: action. I grew up in an environment where every week or every month, the “need for change” was brought up, but no one actually ever did it. The problem here was that we disassociate the “need for change” with our daily processes and operations, and we don’t connect what needs to change to what we already do. Case in point: environmental sustainability. We think it’s something new we need to take time out of our daily schedules to focus on, some sort of grand project that maybe we can fit in time for on the weekends or during vacation time, without taking into consideration that every single day we interact with the environment (and also our harming of it) and therefore every single day it’s necessary to act in sustainable ways. The leadership we need is the leadership that can seamlessly integrate the everyday steps and everyday actions of humanity into the right direction and the right path. This is necessary for the main purpose of being effective, and also because we are already at a point in the whole book of humanity’s existence where our resources are dwindling and any sort of action needs to be swift. This is why leadership that calls for action in the right direction is so important in the context of human history.

socially responsible: Because for me, we have already been running this world long without it. Defined as an ethical framework which suggests that an entity has an obligation to act for the society at large, it’s actually very clear to see how in many parts of the world today, both in non-functioning but also functioning countries and economies, based on this definition this has NOT been a priority. Why is it important? It will be very clear to see in a few years that if we continue operating in a way where a minority of select individuals continue to make decisions based on self-interest, then the consequences would be dire — widening rich-poor gap, conflicts and wars, the erosion of peaceful co-existence, all of these making the world a very unpleasant place to live in. We owe it to ourselves and the generations after us to adopt a mentality of making decisions that would benefit the most amount of people.

entrepreneurial: Because new businesses, ideas, innovation are what breeds a successful economy. In fact, studies have shown that most human improvements have been shown not in places that received charitable donations, but in places where entrepreneurship fueled the economy. This can be the gamechanger in places affected by poverty, low human development, etc.

culturally sensitive: Because Facebook, Twitter, airplanes, ships, Skype and free trade (among many other things) have made us an interconnected world where it matters that you know which countries are bordering you, which countries you get your products from, which countries send the most international students to your university, and a host of other situations that affect our day-to-day life. Beyond that, I think Brandon Stanton (of Humans of New York fame) said it best after he toured and photographed Pakistan, “If we’re afraid of each other, we’ll never be able to work together to solve common problems.” The world is super big, but it’s also become too small to ignore different people, cultures, races, and ethnicities.

active learners: Because every day, different fields, markets, areas, topics are advancing with new information, new discoveries, big data providing new insights, etc. The world is constantly changing and a new piece of history is written every single day, and it really depends on your ability to quickly digest and analyze this information, in order to understand how to take the next step forward..and to always be two steps ahead of the game.

young people: For me, this is one of the most important things. Why young people? One simple reason is that they literally are the future…they will be here in the next 50 years, some of us may not be. If they start now, they can adapt the necessary skills, competencies, and mindset (especially those things mentioned above) and be able to hone and refine them throughout the next half century in order to turn around the nature of this game called life, existence, and Earth. They have the time and potential to do the things that perhaps older generations cannot. And if they start sooner, better things can happen sooner.

I’m personally glad to have had a bit of deeper perspective into what these words actually mean for me and for others. Now, “changing the world” isn’t just some tagline, but rather an understanding of what needs to be done, how to do it, and how to continue honing and refining the traits that would make it possible.

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