Five Lessons from the Millennials and the Z Generation

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“You are too young to understand”. Everyone in their youth has been told this sentence at least once. Yet, today more than ever, this way of saying has become obsolete. Indeed, millennials and representatives of the Z generation – i.e. people born between 1981-1996 and 1996-2019 respectively – have been active shapers of this world’s greatest challenges: from climate change to the spread of anti-fascist sentiments. Hence, while wisdom shall increase with age and experience come with time, younger generations seem today able to teach useful lessons to decision-makers.

In particular, five sets of values, characterizing present young activists and movements worldwide, are worth the consideration of senior political leaders.

1. Determination and Pragmatism

One of the most common reasons for ineffective policy-making is a slow and inconsistent approach to wicked problems. A good example of such a case is provided by the fight against climate change, which international policy-makers dangerously postponed – some of them even denied – in favor of economic globalization. Now that rising sea levels, extremely polluted air and extinction of rare species call for a prompt global action, politicians worldwide appear still unable to adequately set their agendas, loosing themselves in never ending national and supranational debates.

In this sense, the determination with which Greta Thunberg protested every Friday in front of the Swedish Parliament and the pragmatism through which she kept on asking leaders and citizens worldwide for a straightforward and immediate reduction of Co2 emissions are features that all decision-makers should show when pursuing any policy goal.

2. Cooperation and Team Spirit

Another backlash of globalization – and in particular of the increased inflow of migrants in advanced economies – has been the vehement emergence of extremist nationalist voices. In this regard, the decision of Great Britain to leave the EU, the election of the protectionist Trump as well as the rise of a populist government in Italy are only consequences of the dissatisfaction of certain “le`-behind” social groups with the process of global integration. Profiting from this sentiment, these newly elected decision-makers have been consistently using a “my-nation-comes-first“ approach and claimed the need to regain control over too internationalized dimensions, among which also labor, security and trade.

However, to deal with the present wave of globalization and its implications, cooperation and team spirit are needed, not only between, but also within nations. The latest example from which current policy-makers could take inspiration is represented by the Sardines movement in Italy. Tight as sardines in a can, the young founders of this anti-fascist group are reminding everyone in Italy and beyond – in fact demonstrations happened in Austria as well – of the importance to stay united in times of crisis and together, more effectively, fight against present threats.

3. Open-mindedness and Progressive Thinking

What is evident from the previous examples of climate change and populism is that the answer to these global challenges is not stepping back from globalization and embrace more protectionism. Conversely, global leaders should keep their minds open to new possible solutions and think progressively instead of backward. Such a conclusion seems to be very clear to all the young people currently protesting against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India, which threatens the permanence of Muslim immigrants in the country, actively discriminating and violating the secular principles at the basis of the Indian constitution.

To some extent, the same open-mindedness and progressive thinking demonstrated by these young Indians would allow present international decision-makers to make the adjustments/changes to the global governance rules needed to ensure a more inclusive, cooperative and balanced globalization.

4. Courage and Risk-taking

Bringing about change is risky because it always involves a certain degree of uncertainty as regards the effects of the actions taken and their predicted or unpredictable consequences. This is even more true when the aspired change is against the will of strong members of the society or opposed by cultural/ historical norms of a country. As an example, taxes levied on the top 1% income owners or other policies aimed at reallocating resources against the economic inequality pervading several developed nations are highly contested.

To tackle certain problems – among which first and foremost inequality, in all its forms – today’s policy-makers should be able to take risks and display the courage required to break taboos and move towards change, especially when fundamental rights and injustices are involved. Young sources of inspiration in this framework are certainly the 2014 noble-prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who was never afraid of speaking up for girls’ education rights – not even when the Talibans shoot her in the head – but also many other girls and boys raising their voices for more diversity, inclusion and gender equality (e.g. see Amika George and her petition for period products on school meals).

5. Social Media and Effective Communication

While policies will always remain to some extent controversial, effective and transparent communication of problems and their proposed solutions is nowadays key. In the midst of technological revolution, social media are certainly essential communication channels for global politics. Yet, these powerful instruments should not serve the self-interests of politicians, dis-informing or mis-informing entire populations.

Rather, they should bring people closer to politics and decision-making by providing understandable news and positive messages. Many are the “young” instances of good social media use. To name some, the women empowerment #metoo movement, which started from a MySpace post of a sexual harassment survivor, and Imen Jane, a young economist using Instagram to explain the new fiscal laws currently being developed in the Italian Parliament. A similar use of social media should be adopted by most policy-makers and supranational/intergovernmental bodies in the world.

An article by Giulia Carsaniga, YGC 2020.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Solutions Initiative. 

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Giuliaa Young Global Changer of 2020, is a Master of Public Policy candidate at the Hertie School of Berlin. Passionate about EU governance and digital policy, she is currently working for the European Public Sector team of the tech consultancy Capgemini, practice partner in her research on EU technological sovereignty.

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