What I learned at the World Bank Youth Summit
Updated: Jul 21
The World Bank is an international financial institution, categorized as a development bank, providing low interest loans and expertise to developing countries. Created following World War 2, the institution is part of the so-called “Bretton-Woods agreement”, the governing body for monetary relations among independent states. The IMF (International Monetary Fund), which provides debt relief to struggling countries through economic restructuring plans is also part of the Bretton-Woods consortium.
Every year, the World Bank holds a youth summit, in which they invite 300 youths (ages 18-35), representing over 100 countries. A new theme is discussed every year, and 2019 was “Smart Cities for a Resilient Future”. I was lucky enough to be invited, and attended the summit last week. What I am about to write is a personal reflection on the event, and in no way represents the views of the AfterThought Group.
First of all, the summit was a great reminder of why Mitchem and I created AfterThought: the world faces many issues, and we, the youth, have a responsibility to find innovative solutions...and it is happening! Youth is creative, and the increased connectivity the world enjoys through the internet is only facilitating the excellent initiatives that were showcased at this year’s edition. There is hope, a lot of hope for this future generation. We have access to tools our predecessors could only dream of. And the incredible young people I met are making the most of these unique opportunities.
I consider myself a “rational optimist”: I don’t turn a blind eye to the numerous issues our world is facing, but I sincerely believe there must be a feasible solution to all of them. That is a common trait that I found in all of these young social entrepreneurs. I use the term social entrepreneur because all of the start-ups that were pitched were just that: for-profit companies, but with a mission to improve the well-being of the population on a large scale. As Anarag Agarwal (one of the keynote speakers), founder of “Janajal Safe Water” said: “Your business has to be sustainable on two fronts; environmental and financial.” Wanting to make a profit should not be considered derogatory, especially if your organization is pursuing the greater good. Being financially successful actually increases the positive impact you can make. Janajal has provided clean water to millions of Indians, and keeps expanding.
From combining recycling and health insurance, revolutionizing transport in Zimbabwe or facilitating trash pick up in Nepal, the ideas and concepts presented to us were mind-blowing and revolutionary. I felt the positive energy around me, the vibrant desire to make a change in the world. Which introduces my next point: regardless of what some -though not all- of the older generations might suggest, our generation is indeed extraordinary. We all inherited issues, some worse than others. Climate change, wars, inefficient governments are all problems that we didn’t choose. But as stated above, we have more tools than ever to move forward on these. I also believe that our generation has that extra talent and potential that I can’t pinpoint, but which I can just feel around me, as my fellow Frenchmen would say, a ‘je ne sais quoi’ but that is very real!
The most impressive element by far was the ability of these young social entrepreneurs to think outside the box, or indeed inside the box in the case of the winners of this year’s Youth Summit competition Jury award. I want to dedicate a short paragraph to this venture because it epitomizes all of my afore mentioned points. “The Box, by Green the Gene”, is a venture led by two young social entrepreneurs from India, Madhav Datt and Kaushal Shetty. Their project is basically a livable, life size box with a bed, bathroom, all powered by a solar panel. The so- called box can be deployed to disaster zones where people have lost their homes, and their dignity. One member of the jury asked: “Isn’t your business model based on a hope for natural disasters?”. I do admit I was surprised by this question. These two young people took time, energy and money to create a life saving device to be used in zones impacted by climate disasters, and the question at hand is “Do you hope natural disasters will happen?”. Mr.Datt was visibly confused by the question, as I don’t think “hoping for natural disasters to happen” was a thought that had ever crossed his mind. And this shows why our generation is special: we are more driven by social impact than financial profit. As stated above, it is not evil to seek financial profit but I think these entrepreneurs flipped the equation: they use financial profit as a way to sustain their real-world impact, not the other way around.
This short piece of mine cannot do justice to all of the other incredible ventures, speakers and people present at this summit. I would like to just think I at least shared the spirit of the event. An incredible spirit of cooperation, desire to change the world, and a capacity to think big, very big. Walking out of the massive, imposing World Bank building on the last day I thought to myself: if these young people all set out to achieve what they started, in 10 years the world will be an undeniably better, safer and livable place.
I want to thank the World Bank for recognizing the power and potential that youth offers. Created in 2013, the Youth Summit has been an amazing opportunity for international youth cooperation around the world. Organizations such as Youth Lead and Y2Y are fundamentally, positively reshaping the way future world leaders will interact. Thank you also to the amazing organizers, all volunteers, who worked so hard to make this year’s summit positively fabulous.
List of the Youth Summit Competition finalists ventures:
Revolutionizing urban mobility in Zimbabwe: https://www.tuverl.com/
Incentivizing trash pick-up and recycling in Nepal: https://www.khaalisisi.com/
Creating a digital community market: https://www.quipumarket.com/
Revolutionary emergency shelters: https://www.greenthegene.org/
Combining waste management with micro-health insurance: https://sosocare.com/
Janajal Safe Water: https://janajal.com
By Timothy Motte