In 2010, the world looked on as the Arab Spring took root in Tunisia. Before long, demonstrations would spread throughout the country, on to Egypt, and throughout the Middle East.
Around the same time, the World Economic Forum wanted to take into account the power of youth in a world where 50% of the global population is under 27. It launched a community that I am part of – the Global Shapers – to bring this demographic into the fold and engage young people on the global stage.
All this sets the stage for Thomas Friedman’s recent piece in the New York Times, heralding the rise of the Square People. As he travels the world, he sees young, energetic, entrepreneurial people proactively pursuing change – in their homes, in their communities, across the “square spaces” of the internet and in public squares. From Atlanta to Kiev to Hanoi, the world is changing, and the Square People, as he calls us, are taking advantage of the shifting tides.
By driving change, Square People are set to benefit disproportionately through new doors being open and new opportunities being made available. They are using the democratization of information brought on by new technology to fuel their dreams and shed light on the corrupt practices of officials, crime bosses and influencers across the world.
The collective realization among my generation, the generation of Square People, is that we have built our global society on faulty assumptions. As we have become more self-educated and curious, we have seen the grim realities of our existing systems.
Large swaths of the global population do not have access to clean water, food or suitable sanitation systems. The planet is incapable of sustaining a global standard of living similar to that of the Western world. Too many leaders the world over are being exposed for corrupt practices, crony capitalism and censorship, while too many institutions have been powerless to prevent genocide, toxic pollution and terrorism.
Yes, we seek reform and revolution and we insist on a more sustainable future with more freedom for all.
For Friedman, the term Square People, describes a diverse population across the world with similar goals:
“To be sure, The Square People represent a diverse politics, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and ultranationalists in Kiev. But the dominant trend running through them all is this: We now have the tools to see how everyone is living, including opportunities abroad and corrupt leaders at home, and we will not tolerate indefinitely living in a context where we can’t realize our full potential. And also we now have the tools to collaborate to do something about it.”
We have also been variably referred to as Digital Native and Millennials, but, as Friedman argues, we have an important driving force behind us: We live in a world where information is the new currency.
Across the world, access to information and the democratization of technology is enabling talented, passionate, young people to be inspired, invigorated and sometimes enraged by the state of affairs at home and abroad. We draw courage from one another through our digital connection as we fight for the causes and justice in which we so deeply believe.
In this world, where we understand possibility and uncover corruption, we demand more from each other and from the leaders who have preceded us. We believe in something more and we’re willing to stand up for a better future.
For all the insights of his piece, Friedman posits a false opposition between today’s Square People and the Davos Men who represent traditional power structures. You see, the two are not necessarily all that different. The World Economic Forum has incorporated the world’s impassioned youth into its global community of change-makers.
The Global Shapers are alive and well, made up of 3,500+ highly motivated young people across 325 Hubs in more than 120 countries. The Shapers have become an integral part of the Forum’s growing global community.
In Bangalore, Global Shapers are pushing to rid their city of violence against women. Meanwhile, in South Africa, the Tshwane Hub is tackling leadership at the grassroots level through their Leaderthon project. In Medellin, Colombia, Shapers are embodying the ethos of the Square People by encouraging young people to participate in the political process. We know that the best way to be heard is to be an active participant in elections, conversations with our representatives, and, when necessary, through peaceful protest.
As World Economic Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Professor Klaus Schwab puts it: “Solutions to our global challenges must purposefully engage youth, at all levels – locally, regionally, nationally and globally. This generation has the passion, dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit to shape the future.”
Welcome to Davos, Square People. Let’s build the future together.
Author: Barrett Brooks is Chief Executive Officer of Living for Monday and a Global Shaper.
Image: Global Shapers at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos 2012.