The below is an opinion piece written by Kevin Lee, COO of China Youthology, as an appeal to China’s youth to their identity as global citizens and their role in the global youth community.
On September 23-25, I had the honour of being invited to attend the 2019 Goalkeepers event by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in New York City.
Held each year alongside the UN general assembly, the Goalkeepers is a community that tracks, promotes and strives to achieve, the 17 Global Goals, also known as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These Global Goals were set out by the UN in 2015, with the ambitious target of solving some of the world’s biggest problems by 2030. These 17 Global Goals include for example: No Poverty (Goal #1), Reduced Inequalities (Goal #10), Quality Education (Goal #4), Responsible Consumption & Production (Goal #12), and many more. Creating equal opportunity for all to live healthy, productive lives is at the heart of the 17 Global Goals. As Bill Gates put it during the Goalkeeper’s event: “Being born in a particular location, shouldn’t be the thing that determines how long you live, so our task, is to close that gap.” and “Everyone has different dreams, but these basic needs like health and education, gives everyone a chance to fulfill those dreams.” The Global Goals calls for the coming together of governments, businesses and individuals in society to work together to build a better future for everyone.
The event was filled with a mix of different change makers, from heads of state like Spanish President Pedro Sanchez and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to 17-year old Payal Jangid who won the Changemaker award this year for her work to fight child labour and child marriage in her rural village in India. And 31-year old Aya Chebbi, a Tunisian who is the founder of Africa Youth Movement, an advocate for peace and non-violence in Africa, and the winner of this year’s Campaign Award. Of course, Bill and Melinda Gates hosted and shared their perspective on many occasions.
As I listened and learned from these and other amazing people, there are a few important observations that I feel compelled to bring back to share and reflect with China’s youth:
- The majority of change-makers that attended the Goalkeepers event were from developing countries.
It was not only the award winners (two from India, two from Africa), but the majority of people in attendance were native of, and leading initiatives in countries that would be classified as ‘developing’ and even ‘poor’. I spent more time sitting beside and talking to Africans, Indians, and ethnicities of non-Western and non-developed countries than people of ‘Western’ and ‘Developed’ nations. Hearing what each person was doing in their own local region gave me two reflections: 1) Its not necessary for a country/citizen to wait until they become middle-class, wealthy, or ‘developed’ to begin working on societal issues 2) The idea of getting individually involved in societal issues is not a ‘Western’-owned mandate or Western-mindset. The intensity of non-western representation and leadership for the Global Goals is evidence that societal participation should and does happen in all cultures, values and socio-economic contexts.
- Change-makers agree that the global good outweighs the needs and risks of any one nation or people group.
Two statements stood out to me throughout the event: Indian Prime Minister Modi said more than once: “We consider the world our family” and New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern said: “We need more examples of prioritizing the collective global well-being over the domestic self-interest”. I am reminded and refreshed in knowing there is a group of people spread out across the planet, that realize we all share one planet, and all of our lives relies on all of us working together. We can only manage this shared planet if we do it together, and in a symbiotic relationship, we can only manage our shared plane well if we manage our human race. What is no longer acceptable at this moment of global crises and inter-connected challenges, is for some of us to believe that just managing our own country well, and letting another country operate in its own way, that this approach will prove effective in stewarding this one shared planet. While every people group has needs, has crises, and has priorities, we all need to realize that the global priorities that effect us all, are more important.
- Change-makers are young.
17-year old Payal Jangid said in her acceptance speech for the Changemaker award: “Every young person is a change-maker, it’s all about being given an opportunity”. I cannot emphasize enough the power and impact young people have when they get focused on creating action and change not only in their own lives but in the lives of others. Young people have the energy, time, and creativity to realizing change that will stick. Also, young people have the spirit and hope for change because they can imagine a greater amount of life possibilities in their lifetime. One thing I surmise is true: If young people focused on local social change, it would bring about cultural change, and from my experience at China Youthology, we know cultural change brings business opportunity.
I particularly liked listening to New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern share her experience. As one of the first Post-80s to be a State Leader, one of two women to have a baby while in office, and the only woman to take maternity leave while in office, I have great respect for her and am watching closely if she will help set the example for a new generation of leaders. When she was reflection on some of the factors that set her on this successful path, she mentioned one important thing: "Building a social conscience while still young.” As young people we should feel encouraged and emboldened to follow these examples, and start young, because it is the right time to start.
So what do these reflections mean for China’s youth?
One of the issues the China delegates to the Goalkeepers Event discussed was how under-represented China was at the event. Even though China as a country has become developed, there are still a lot of Chinese that don’t enjoy equal opportunities to living. And there are even greater opportunities for Chinese to help non-Chinese of many nations, because we have already learned and experienced so much. China could and should have a lot more stories to share about what they are doing to change the world around us. So why so few stories?
This has been a continual challenge that I have tried to answer over the past 10 years observing, encouraging, and working with China’s youth — When will we see China’s youth join their peers from other countries in making social changes for their own future? What are the drivers that could move them to action, because the time for next generation leadership is now?
As someone who has spent enough time observing the lives and hear the stories of many different Chinese youth, I can empathize with the pressures this generation has to find their own way, to build a sense of security, and at the same time work out how the world will understand them. These concerns would make most feel like they need to first focus on sorting out themselves and their own lives before they can think about helping others. And while this makes natural sense, the opportunities of our lives often come from things that don’t feel natural, require a leap of faith, and maybe only a clear end goal with no clear steps how to get there.
Pursuing something beyond yourself might just be the opportunity of your life, and through it, you might even find new things about yourself that you would never have known.
Caring about the welfare of others doesn’t mean you have to do a political protest or cause social unrest. As some of the Goalkeeper award winners have shown us, it could just mean talking about the issues you find important. And then it could mean simply starting small. Big changes start with local changes.
There should be no more reasons or excuses to hold us back. As China’s youth, we have more going for us, more opportunity, more resources, to create change around issues that impact all of us. And yet those who are younger than us with less freedoms, less resources, less opportunity, and more at risk, are doing more to make our world a better place for us and the next generation.
Lets start talking today, and dare to dream how China youth might have unique contributions to make to creating equal opportunity in the world.