How can the youth make their voice heard to drive climate action in the workplace and in their communities

Integrating the youth could open doors for new ideas and perspectives

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Published: Tue 5 Dec 2023, 12:18 PM

When it comes to climate action, a big divide exists between the youth entering the workforce and business and community leaders. While several top executives and leaders strive to improve their carbon footprint and devise strategies that serve their business and communities through ESG reporting, their approach is often top down and does not consider the new hires and the voices of youngsters. Establishing climate action business and community plans are often delegated to the chief sustainability officer and the youth feel left out. They consider that more should be done by their employer to better the planet that they will pass on to the generations to follow.

According to Nada Sayarh Ph D, associate professor, and head of ESG at S P Jain School of Global Management — Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, and Sydney, the youth entering the workforce witness a big disconnect between their expectations in terms of their employer’s ESG engagement and their level of commitment to do the right thing.

Some report facing many obstacles to make their voice heard. They are perceived as not having the necessary experience to make meaningful contributions. They often face the stigma that they do not have the adequate knowledge and experience and maturity levels required to have a seat at the table. Sometimes they are invited to share their perspective, but their contribution remains at the advisory level. The youth need dialogues that can generate commitment such as funding mobilisation, and action plans that relate to their day-to-day jobs and that they help implement.

So what is the best way for the youth to voice their opinion?

This week, S P Jain School of Global Management Dubai, Mumbai, Singapore, and Sydney hosted the Youth Negotiators Academy as part of its ESG strategy and commitment to create more opportunities to encourage intergenerational communication and impact for a sustainable world. Over 100 youth climate negotiators from 80 countries came together at S P Jain School of Global Management, Dubai campus to take part in the climate youth negotiator programme. They received negotiation training from professors at the Harvard Kennedy School to equip them with the necessary skills for their upcoming negotiations with heads of state and community leaders on behalf of their countries in COP 28.

The Youth Negotiators Academy has successfully developed an exceptionally effective youth inclusion programme, which serves as a comprehensive blueprint for organisations aiming to integrate the youth into their sustainability agenda. The primary goal is to cultivate competent and confident young negotiators capable of spearheading impactful actions. To achieve this, several key components have been implemented.

Firstly, participants are granted access to essential training and educational support essential for negotiating with state leaders. This ensures that they are well-prepared to make effective interventions and drive systemic change during negotiations. Secondly, the Youth Negotiators Academy goes beyond theoretical learning, actively involving participants in real-world negotiations. This hands-on approach allows them to apply their negotiation skills in practice, facilitating the delivery of desired impacts.

Thirdly, a special emphasis is placed on the well-being of the youth negotiators to prevent excessive stress and burnout throughout the process. This proactive approach acknowledges the importance of maintaining their mental and emotional health. Fourthly, participants are brought together in a supportive community, mitigating feelings of isolation. This collective environment not only fosters a sense of belonging but also enables the development of a strong, unified voice that can be effectively incorporated into the negotiation process. Overall, the Youth Negotiators Academy has established a comprehensive and impactful framework to empower and support young negotiators in driving positive change.

We have asked these expert youth negotiators to provide advice to young hires on how they can make their voice heard within their organisation. We have distilled four main tips that can be transposed to the corporate world:

Upskill and educate yourself: Learning negotiations skills is necessary for the youth to make their voice heard and move away from conflict. This includes systems thinking and power mapping to figure out who holds influence in the organisation and figure out how you can help. Sophie Daud, co-founder of the Youth negotiators academy advises the youth to always go prepared and use the internet to have solid databased information to move away from emotion-based arguments. She said: "Many young people are like, ohh, but you know, you know, I don't know how things are done here. And actually, part of it is like, of course, educate yourself, right, go in and ask questions that you could have found out by looking on the internet. Educate yourself don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Whatever you do don’t stay silent. Use your voice and speak out about it."

Ian Fry, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change and a trainer in the program advises to collect data about what top performers in the industry are doing and leverage it to get the company involved. He said: "Transformation is part of the process and it's inevitable. Companies will have to respond to climate change. It's just something you can't ignore. So the ones who are going to move first and fastest are going, find the right niche and economic advantage in doing that. So you just have to find good examples and encourage the company to move in that direction."

Build Generational Allies: This is very important. Justice isn’t just young people taking over the world. It’s about young people working with older people to make sure all generations are considered. Phael Lander, a young negotiator from the Commonwealth of Dominica recognises the importance of working together with the older generations and building the necessary leadership and communication skills to bridge generational gaps to move towards a common goal. He said: "It’s not really a matter of what we want to do but who is doing it? Finding ways of working together in concert towards this big picture. So you have to have the leadership skills to communicate what it is that you want."

The best way to change the system is to integrate it: Learning to work with people instead of against people and recognising that to change the system you have to be in it. Shouting at the system does not always work. Learning to integrate the system is a good step towards being heard. Often things don’t change by advocating and campaigning, things change when someone listens to those campaigning and does something about it on the inside. The most effective way is to change systems from the inside out. Ian Fry explains, "You need to know the institution’s procedures, how to work within that system to get the change. You have to understand how businesses work, what they see as their bottom line, what's their motivation, how they operate and then try and insert into that process. Find a way to insert your views into the process. You know there are all sorts of hierarchies. Understanding those hierarchies is critical. Think about how they can get your views into the system. People are generally receptive if there are some good ideas and that’s the crucial thing."

Solving the climate crisis requires innovative ways of thinking and we have to go beyond our usual practices as what we have been doing is not yielding the necessary results to stop global warming. Integrating the youth could open doors for new ideas and perspectives and uncover the blind spots that the homogenous executive boards might have. This however should be done with the support of a structured program that equips the youth with the necessary knowledge, skills and emotional support to make impactful contributions that have the potential to change the system from the inside out.

"I need to be involved because I know I need to protect my future and protect the future for my children's children to be able to enjoy my beautiful country, enjoy the world that we live in," added Lander.

According to Dr Christopher Abraham, CEO and head of the Dubai Campus of the S P Jain School of Global Management, who opened the doors for this exciting youth initiative and also gave the special welcome address on 'Youth Revolution – The Way Forward for Climate Negotiations, "The future belongs to the youth who are brave, bold and proactive to bring about the change they desire."

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