At the One Young World summit in London, future world leaders pooled their collective wisdom to take on some of the world’s most pressing issues – and inspire others to do the same. Stuart Wood reports
“Leadership is not about hoping for the world you want. It’s about delivering it.”
Kate Robertson, co-founder of the One Young World summit alongside partner David Jones, is speaking at the opening ceremony of the conference’s 2019 edition. London’s Royal Albert Hall is filled to the brim with the world’s next generation of politicians, artists, economists, business leaders, and downright brilliant human beings.
Many of them have won scholarships to attend the event, which consists of a week of inspirational talks from high-profile speakers across the city. Among those on the billing are singer Ellie Goulding, actor Douglas Booth, and representatives of organisations such as the UN and Amnesty International.
Now in its tenth year, the event has continued to grow from strength to strength. It bills itself as the biggest international gathering in London since the 2012 Olympics, with representatives from more than 190 countries. It also has the backing of some high-profile trustees, including Bob Geldof and the Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle – who makes a grand entrance during the opening ceremony.
All this star power has come together for a common cause: to celebrate the diversity and ingenuity of the world’s future leaders, and bring them together to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, speaking during the opening ceremony, says: “At a moment when authoritarian politics are on the rise, when we face the spectre of climate breakdown and inequality, we must stand up for our democratic values – together.”
It’s difficult not to get swept up in the rising tide of optimism inside the Royal Albert Hall. During a flag-bearing ceremony at the end of the evening, representatives from each of the 190 countries carry their nation’s colours across the stage in turn. When the representatives from North and South Korea are called onto stage, they stop side by side and join hands – which causes the entire room to erupt into emotional whoops and applause.
“The greatest asset for future leaders like you is radical hope,” says Ellie Goulding, speaking in Westminster’s Central Hall the next day. “People will always try and shame you, try and fill you with apathy. Don’t let them – your positivity and hope can change the world.”
Goulding’s speech, delivered to a room in which every seat is filled and with a queue out the front door, is charmingly nervous for such a public figure. But her motivational words might not even be needed for some in the audience – many of these brilliant young minds have already changed the world.
A series of delegate speakers are invited to address the audience that afternoon. They are all responsible for incredible projects addressing environmental and social issues, despite their young age.
Among these is a young man from Nigeria, no older than 21, who founded an outreach programme educating rural areas of the country about HIV. He has saved the lives of over 200 people to date, and is now expanding the education to include other diseases. Also speaking was a young lady from Palau who had founded a successful small business selling homemade sunscreen, with ingredients which don’t contribute to coral bleaching in her native region.
The stories of these highly driven young people are enough to make me feel a little bit inadequate by comparison – but they are among the most inspirational conference speakers I’ve ever seen. One Young World is not about talk, but about action: those in attendance are not hypothesising, or planning, or preaching. They are making a difference right now, and inspiring others to do the same.
Adam Blackwood is the creative director and founder of Private Drama Events, the company which organised and staged the opening ceremony. He says: “It couldn’t be more appropriate to host One Young World now. With Greta Thunberg blazing a trail, the empowerment of young people is very much of the moment. It’s important to give young people a platform – they are tomorrow’s leaders.
“One of the biggest organisational challenges we had with the event was time. We got in at four in the morning on the day of the opening ceremony, and put on a two-hour show. We have over 250 performers in the cast, and 700 people backstage including all the flag-bearers. All of it is to try and showcase the culture of London to an international audience.”
The conference aspect of One Young World was put together by MCI Group, which pooled talent from its Netherlands and UK offices. The global events agency provided event management, volunteering, transportation services and more.
Angela van Herk, One Young World project lead at MCI The Netherlands, commented: “We are proud to partner with One Young World again to deliver their transformative global Summit.
“This year, MCI The Netherlands jointly collaborated with MCI UK, adding value to our One Young World relationship with fresh views, market experience and local networks. It’s incredibly rewarding to facilitate the conversation that drives world change, and bring the One Young World Summit to life for its tenth anniversary year in London.”