Who said you have to wait till you turn 50 to be on the board of a multinational corporation?

By Alexandra Kotchoubei


The youth are given leadership roles in school already – scholar patrol, prefect, head boy/girl, city council, captain of teams, Rotary Interact Clubs. So why when we enter the working world do we assume we will just become ‘the kid that gets everyone coffee’?

The youth of today are becoming louder and louder, because,it turns out, we actually do know a thing or two.

Melati Wijsen is a full-time change-maker and movement builder who started her activism for climate change when she decided to make Bali, Indonesia, plastic bag free before summer was over and the school year started back in 2012. Of course, it wasn’t that quick and easy of a solution. In her TED Countdown talk, ‘A roadmap for young changemakers’, Melati shares about how activism is a tough job and how we need to start giving youth a seat at the table.

Today, rather than waiting until we’re older, our youth speak up. From as young as 10 years old the youth are putting their foot down and taking a stand for injustices, no matter how big or small. From organising demonstrations to drafting manifestos and missing school for the cause, our youth truly care.

South Africa is a youthful nation but, in a State of the Nation Address, President Cyril Ramaphosa referred to the unemployment rate among young South Africans as “a national crisis that demanded urgent, innovative and coordinated solutions”. The Presidential Youth Employment Initiative (PYEI) was implemented as the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI) across all nine provinces as an added value in stimulating the economy of South Africa to reduce youth unemployment in the country.

In October 2021, The Department of Employment and Labour and the National Treasury’s Jobs Fund were pleased to announce the opening of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI’s) National Pathway Management Network (NPMN) Innovation Fund funding round. Coordinated by the Presidency, the fund aims to help reach their goal of creating a minimum of two million new jobs for young people within the next decade. In order to accelerate pathways for our youth the PYEI has identified several key priorities. The first is the establishment of the National Pathway Management Network (NPMN) whose aim is to facilitate the transition of young people into and through the labour market successfully. This includes skills development and workplace experience. Furthermore, they aim to focus on support for self-employment and enterprise in the township and rural economy as well as the Presidential Youth Service programme. In order to successfully implement the different components of the PYEI, various partners across government will be involved.

As with anything, people need real life examples; someone to look up to, to help guide them and make change. As the youth continue to take more things into their own hands, we’ve come to see many successful activists who have created a name for themselves. Ever heard of Greta Thunberg or Malala Yousafsai? As these young people create their own platforms, higher powers such as the government and multinational corporations are starting to notice, look and listen. An article by Corporate Knights says that “more than half the world’s population is under the age of 40, and yet this group is dramatically underrepresented in the decision-making bodies of corporations, governments and universities.”

An article by Forbes states that more than half of the world’s population is under 30 and millennials are the world’s largest generation in the workforce. This also means that the majority of consumers are millennials too. With the increasingly changing marketplace, the youth are on the ground knowing what is going on and moving with the times. This needs to be represented on the board. And that is exactly what The Body Shop is doing when they announced that they were bringing young people into their boardroom. They believe that young people are the ones that will inherit the consequences of our decisions of today and so as one of the largest B Corps in the world, they want to use their business as a force for good. In the words of sustainability, this means “balancing people, profit and planet to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.” Their Youth Collective is that of a group of under 30s from within The Body Shop and other B Corp organisations who The Body Shop leadership team will consult on decisions that concern the business so that their voices can be heard as well as nudge the team to look at things from other perspectives. 

The rise in youth engagement is what the population earns to see. But with any good cause there always seems to be a negative which in this case – is youth-washing. This is the new scary trend that Melati Wijsen touches on in her TED talk which is when youth are invited just for the good PR and marketing with photo-ops and applause. This has especially become prevalent in climate change activism. The solution: invite the millennials and Gen Z to your brainstorming sessions and board meetings, and introduce “shadow boards”. Or better yet, get involved in reverse mentoring. It takes two to mentor and you’d be surprised by what you could learn from someone 20 years younger than you.

As Melati states, “Youth activism is more than an inspiration. We are serious about change.” But not everyone is a full-on activist demonstrating with signs on the streets and all over social media. Many of us see ourselves adding value at our own place of work or the organisations we volunteer in. By connecting with the seniors. 

In the celebration of #YouthMonth2022 we need to continue. If your company seems to be finding it difficult to keep up with the times, your game changer could be diversity in age. So invite us in. What youth will be joining you at your table?

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