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Businesses must embrace the disruptive power of young people


Authored by Keith Weed

As Unilever attends the World Economic Forum in Davos this week, our Chief Marketing Officer, Keith Weed, argues that business leaders must embrace young people and their ideas to make a difference.

Last month I was in Paris at the COP21 climate meeting and as I reflected there on the influence of social movements, what struck me was the power and prevalence of two groups within this collaboration revolution – that of youth and that of the private sector. One group had an extremely high presence in Paris, lobbying governments, pushing for ambitious change and leading from the front.

The other group was noticeable by its absence. Can you guess which was which? It might surprise you.

Harnessing the power of young people

Despite being the ultimate focus for many of the discussions at the summit, trying to find a young person in the official central ‘blue zone’ was like trying to find a teenager without a mobile. It was a huge missed opportunity to bridge the gap between these two powerful entities. I’m convinced that if we can really bring together the resources of the private sector with the energy and social power of young people together, we will be unstoppable.

Taking collective action

One initiative doing just this is Born out of the World Economic Forum at Davos two years ago, Collectively is all about inspiring young people to take small steps towards a more sustainable life. And it is supported by some of the world’s largest businesses – Coca-Cola, Facebook, Google and BT, to name a few. As we return to Davos this year, Unilever has a theme of ‘collective action’.

If ever there was a year to really harness the collective power of the trillions of dollars’ worth of private sector resource and the 1.8 million young people out there, this is it.

A challenge for youth and business

How? The will and the desire have to come from both sides. Let me give you a challenge. Business leaders – bring young people into your organisations and let them shape them from within with their fresh ideas. For the past two years we have been working with start-ups and entrepreneurs through the Unilever Foundry to bring their disruptive thinking and innovations to our brands. They are helping us to build a movement for change, and the impact on the agility, the talent and the outputs of our brands has been outstanding.

From the other side – young people, what can you do? Be bold. Continue to believe you can make a difference and change how things are done. Your ideas are the future and your actions can make positive change happen. Don’t shy away from the seemingly impossible. Remember that 82% of millennials believe that if people work together, their collective voice is stronger.

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