Young people may sometimes get a bad press – just think of the riots in Britain – but at a Zurich conference they have been showing that they want to make a difference.
There are 1,200 people mostly under 25 taking part at the international One Young World summit which is billed by the organisers as a forum for future young leaders.
Among the hot topics on Friday were combatting the world obesity epidemic and – in the wake of the young generation’s contribution to the Arab spring – using social media.
The three-day meeting, which runs until September 4, has been dubbed a “Young Davos” by some media – a reference to the conference of world movers and shakers which takes place each year in the Swiss mountain resort.
Frank Bodin, the chairman and CEO of the Euro RSCG group Zurich, who brought the meeting to the city, said although he sometimes used the term, there were some huge differences.
“One is the age – these are young, highly motivated, engaged people and it’s not an elite like in Davos,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“The second thing is that one of the targets of this summit is that it’s not just lasting three days. With the possibilities in social media and networking it’s lasting much longer and everybody who comes here should do something after the summit – so action, action, action. That's an important topic and a certain difference to Davos.”
So not just words. “The important thing is that young people go back and they really want to try to make changes in the world,” he said.
Among those on hand acting as inspirational figures, or counsellors, at the event – being held for the second time after the inaugural summit in London last year – were singer and campaigner Bob Geldof, Egyptian social media activist Wael Ghonim and celebrity chef and campaigner Jamie Oliver.
Oliver’s speech on Friday, received with whoops and an ovation, on how the West in particular was in the grip of an obesity epidemic made grim hearing: the young generation was the first that would not live as long as their parents, he said.
He called on young people to “shake things up” and to make their voices heard on an international level, including lobbying the United Nations via social media ahead of its meeting on non-communicable diseases being held in New York later this month.
Ghonim, the young Google marketing executive turned figurehead in Egypt's anti-Mubarak protest who used Facebook to rally for demonstrations, advised delegates to take action and not to think of themselves as heroes. “People went to the street because of a cause,” he said.
Much was made of the energy coursing through the conference and the delegates themselves were bubbling with ideas, opinions and visions.
Roy Morrison, 25, is half-Swiss and is based Cape Town in South Africa. “I hope to be inspired and build powerful networks that allow me to become successful in the social enterprise I am setting up,” he told swissinfo.ch.
Morrison, who grew up in Switzerland, has a project named Rise Africa Rise which aims, in his words, “to contribute to a prosperous Africa by creating work for unemployed people”.
He wants to expand his craft-based enterprise to include entertainment, for example offering another outlet for people who sing on trains for little money.
Maximilian Stern is, at 25, the CEO of the Zurich-based foraus think tank on Swiss foreign policy. He was hoping to gain new ideas and inputs and has been impressed by his fellow delegates.
“Many people have been standing up and asking questions or making comments which are related to their biographies,” he told swissinfo.ch.
“These are very impressive people who have seen war and terrible things and still they are so motivated, so friendly and so positive about the future.”
As for young people’s sometimes bad reputation, Morrison was sure that the delegates’ actions could change perceptions of young people for the better.
Stern added that although young people were in the headlines because of their involvement in rioting in London, in the Middle East they “changed a lot for the better which the elder generation could not do”.
Both felt young people could make a difference and contribute to finding solutions to issues such as poverty, global warming and corruption.
“For me it’s very good to see that other people have so much energy and that they really want to do something, really change the world, and that makes me feel good about the future,” Stern said.
The second One Young World Summit is being held in Zurich from September 1-4, 2011. It has 1,200 delegates from more than 170 countries.
The first summit was held in London in February 2010 and drew 823 young leaders from 112 countries.
The event was founded by David Jones, global CEO of Havas, and Kate Robertson, British group chairman of the advertising agency Euro RSCG and is non-profit. It has many corporate partners. Some delegates are sponsored by firms, NGOs, universities or governments.
Delegates are called to vote on resolutions in the areas of global business, media, interfaith dialogue, environment, global health and leadership.end of infobox
Facilitator Frank Bodin told swissinfo.ch that he was inspired by the event last year in London and thought Zurich or Switzerland would be a good place, especially at a time when the country was in the headlines over financial issues (tax and banks).
“Everybody knows we have very good chocolate, watches and cheese, but we have other things such as humanitarian work. We are the host of the Red Cross and the United Nation in Geneva,” he said.
In addition, Switzerland is a multicultural country of four languages and Zurich is “the smallest world capital on earth”.
Zurich mayor Corine Mauch was present at the opening ceremony, which also featured a One Young World Zurich choir.end of infobox