I’ve Met The World’s Future Leaders, And They Give Me Hope

The vision of the strong leader single-handedly forcing through their agenda is not one that impresses the next generation of global policy makers.

When we launched our Future Leaders Connect programme at the British Council this year, we asked the 11,000 applicants, aged 18-34, what they thought were important leadership skills and what they saw as the most difficult and urgent problems facing the world.

Despite a diverse range of applicants from ten very different countries (the UK, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, and the USA) there was a striking level of agreement on the key policy challenges facing the world.

Across all applications, education, environmental sustainability and climate change, and youth opportunities ranked first, second and third place respectively after we grouped the priorities into 29 themes.

Education and the environment were among the top three priorities of all but one of the nation’s taking part.

Youth opportunities were a top priority in Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Tunisia; a reflection of the demographics of these nations where the median population age is between 18 and 21 and where youth unemployment is proportionately higher than in other global regions.

It was also a priority in the UK, perhaps a reflection of the rise of the first generation to be less well off than their parents.

The full results are published in our report Generation Rising.

When asked about their conception of leadership, the most highly rated quality for a leader across all 11 countries was ‘collaboration and teamwork’.

It is a consensual approach to leadership that appeals to young people, not the more traditional pictures of strong-minded individuals forging their own way ahead.

Applicants put little value on knowledge and experience, and ‘hard skills’ such as management and professional skills, were given a lower priority.

This was one of the pillars of our Future Leaders Connect programme: to teach skills that will be needed in policy making and to take charge in the professional world.

Last week I spent a day with the 50 participants in Westminster to talk about their visions for the future and what they had taken away from the programme.

The nine-day programme has been a strong bonding experience, both between those taking part and with the UK as we introduced the group to the workings of our political and media institutions.

On October 23, they joined The Elders, the prestigious group of former national leaders, including Ban Ki Moon and Kofi Annan, on their #walktogether event, from Trafalgar Square in memory of the group’s founder Nelson Mandela.

Following the walk they spent the evening discussing key issues with them in an event that was broadcast live online and that you can watch here.

The conversation was a unique opportunity to explore the connection between the political experience that comes with age and the fresh perspectives of young leaders who will be at the forefront of global change.

We should take confidence from the fact that our Future Leaders choose to face global problems with an international and cooperative outlook.

I’ve met them and can only say how impressive they are. They give me hope that the world will be inherited by safe hands, cool heads and open hearts.