A number of us Global Shapers were with the Prime Minister of Netherlands in a private session and I remember how startled he was at my question. I had wanted to know what his advice would be to young people living in emerging democracies, on how to engage governments who do not feel the need to be open or responsive to their citizens. He stopped for a few seconds, took a deep breath and asked me to come again to be sure he understood me. He didn’t believe it was possible that there were democracies where the heads of governments didn’t feel the need to be open or accessible to its people. Why then would it be called a democracy?
You see, Prime Minister Mark Rutte is single and still teaches in a school every week. He takes the train very often to work and has fewer aides than our Local Government Chairmen in Nigeria. So I could understand his surprise. He didn’t understand how a leader could really understand the needs of the people without living like them; even if only on the occasion. He urged that I and other young people, who lived in countries like mine, continue to make noise and demand to be heard. I smiled and thought to myself, “Isn’t that what we’ve been doing?”
The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos this year, had the theme “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” and as a result, there was an unprecedented number of Heads of State (about 50) and business leaders in attendance. Several economies are resurging and emerging economies in particular, continue to excite analysts so naturally, it was an interesting time to be talking about reshaping the world. Also, the Global Shapers, which is the youngest community under the World Economic Forum, were going to be involved more than ever in deliberations and sessions throughout the Forum. Virtually all generations would be represented.
Not surprisingly, the BRICS nations continued to excite most attendees as Mexico and China in particular continue to show signs of strength and continued success. Several sessions were even dedicated solely to BRICS issues. On the other hand, most people I met had not heard about the MINT nations. They also didn’t think it was a viable idea, mostly because all four nations unlike the BRICS, had serious internal social and political issues to grapple with; but also slightly because the BRICS were not even formidable enough let alone a clone.
Several sessions did catch my eye, like “Africa’s Next Billion” which had Presidents Jonathan, Mahama and businessman Aliko Dangote on the panel. The major conclusion that came out of that was the need for Africa to open up its borders and make the continent one. It was agreed that inter-trading and open borders are the key to strong continent by 2050. Another session on “Next Steps for Emerging Economies”, focused on the need to grow and sustain the middle class. Interestingly Nigeria and Brazil got mentioned a lot as ones to watch in the coming years. Carlos Ghosn, CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance compared the car markets in Europe with what currently exists in Argentina and Nigeria and said; “The Nigerian market can only go up.” He later issued a statement saying that the first made in Nigeria cars by Nissan would roll out in Aril 2014, making it obvious that strategic transactions had gone on behind he scenes there.
Another session titled “Norms and Values in Digital Media” left me thinking about how far the world has gone and how far behind we are. Here we are still battling basic intellectual property issues with COSON and BON constantly at loggerheads while the rest of the world is already thinking about the possible death of conventional television and licensing of online digital empires. My thoughts on the need not to ignore growth markets like India and Nigeria and the Caribbean regardless of our many troubles, had many participants talking about a possible Nollywood and Nigerian music scene invasion in the next year. One major record company in particular, gave a commitment to send in representatives by the third quarter of this year to “explore the opportunities.”
Some of my favorite sessions had to be the political ones though, where world leaders had stand-alone sessions with questions from the audience at certain points. Prime Minister David Cameron, whom I’m a fan of, held his own quite well and made strong points with regards to Scotland being a part of Britain for many more years to come. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Israeli President Shimon Peres and US Secretary of State John Kerry, all fired shots at one another at separate sessions with Syria’s danger being the one thing they all seemed to agree on.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) continues to be seen as a mere talk shop that never yields results, in spite of its central motto which says it is committed to improving the state of the world. But like Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder of WEF said, sometimes all you need to do is talk. He opined that if the South Sudanese President and Vice simply talked, maybe the on going crisis would have been averted.
I am most impressed by the WEF’s continuous evolution. From what used to be an exclusive gathering of world leaders and company CEOs, several communities have now been formed under WEF like the Social Entrepreneurs, Young Global Leaders and the Global Shapers. The need to have as many voices and opinions come to the party, can never be overemphasized. It is most important to me that the Global Shapers are a part of the party. We have seen what young people have been able to do in places like Egypt and Ukraine and Turkey, simply because they feel like they have never had a voice. Thus, seeing young people be an active part of the conversation in Davos, was heart warming.
Truth be told, the journey is still long and will be tortuous. But it is safe to say that certain things cannot be ignored anymore. The need for younger people to be heard and given a voice whether through the way the Dutch Prime Minister urged us to, or in the way the WEF is doing it. Also, growth economies will continue to be the toast of the rest of the world and Nigeria needs to recognize this and position herself perfectly. Now is the time to walk the talk and show that we are ready to reshape like the rest of the world because as usual, the rest of the world will move on without us.