The key to change? Cross-generational collaboration.

By Amee Amin, GBCHealth Social Media Corps

In December 2012, the National Intelligence Council published a report on what the world could look like in 2030. Based on key megatrends, game-changing events, and the world’s response to these changes, the future could range from a worst-case scenario of more inequity and chaos to a best-case scenario of equity and peace. This best-case scenario hinges on one key factor in our control: the degree to which we can collaborate and cohere.

We’ve also seen an important shift in development work: key players are recognizing the power that youth have to take on these complex challenges and build a world of equity and peace. As an undergraduate student myself, every day I am surrounded by young people challenging the traditional classroom setting to be a space for creating real-world solutions. My generation has grown up in an increasingly networked world, and we are uniquely positioned to apply the problem solving skills we’ve developed at home to a global scale. This spring, I’ve had the privilege of attending two conferences that catalyze young leaders in solving some of the world’s most pressing problems. The first, Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU), brought together students from across the world to learn how to transform ideas into action. Delegates listened to top policy officials and NGO leaders speak about the best practices they’ve learned from working on issues of climate change to income generation to public health. I felt empowered by the speakers’ particular emphasis on investing in youth. Muhammad Yunus posed the question, “Today’s generation is the most powerful generation in human history – what will you do with that power?”

The weekend following CGIU was GlobeMed’s annual Global Health Summit. For 3 years I’ve worked on the Partnerships Team at the GlobeMed National Office, a nonprofit dedicated to training the next generation of global health leaders. The Summit was an intense, thought-provoking experience where over 300 undergraduates and global health professionals gathered to explore how we can unlock our generation’s potential. Ankur Asthana, co-founder of Article 25, boldly challenged students to translate their value of partnership into advocacy work: “All of us have a role to play and the only way to make progress is to come to collective action.”

Realizing our role, however, proves to be a difficult task. What do we have to offer individually and collectively? In my anthropology and global health classes at Northwestern, I learn about the current landscape of global health development work. The university is invested in building my awareness of a field that increasingly needs youth innovation. Throughout the GlobeMed Summit, I heard global health professionals express that students not only bring fresh understandings of global health systems, but also a new form of empowerment. Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work as the leader of the Liberian’s Women Peace Movement, encouraged Summit delegates to find what keeps us up at night. She told us, “The world is waiting to hear from you.” Both Maya and Leymah are pushing my generation to realize how our unique position of power gives us the capacity to be agents of change. We can only know what we will do with that power if we take the time to realize our full potential.

The process of discerning my generation’s potential requires working with generations before us. The world is more than my generation. In order to unlock the capacity of my generation, we have to seek out the knowledge, wisdom, and practices of generations before us who have built successful businesses, foundations and organizations. These are the institutions that have sparked young people’s passion and interest in becoming global leaders. Maybe we have been left a world with serious problems, but we also have the experience of systems that were built to train and equip young leaders. We must learn from the successes and failures of these systems. My co-worker Alyssa Smaldino, Director of Partnerships for GlobeMed, always asks, “Where are the Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of the developing world?” We have the resources, knowledge, and skills to build up the private and public sector in developing countries. We need to invest in generations of engineers, teachers, business owners, doctors, designers, lawyers, and other creative leaders who can collectively build sustainable infrastructure for their own communities.

If we want to make change, we need to join conversations in the public and private sector to build healthy, sustainable communities. Communities are both the young and old, living and working together. To unlock the capacity of youth around the world, it will take collaboration between the young and old, men and women, rich and poor, public and private sector.

Next week, I will be attending Global Business Coalition – Health Conference as part of their Social Media Corps. This year, GBCHealth is bringing together our country’s top leaders in the private sector to discuss how business can accelerate the achievement of the Millennial Development Goals. It is one step toward the multi-generational and multi-sector collaboration we need to make high-impact change. I’ll be covering panels on the power of smart activism in building effective movements, the partnership between academia, public, and private sector in confronting urban health challenges, and the intersection of digital health and development. I encourage you to join me as I blog and live-tweet throughout the conference (@GlobeMed, #GBCH13). Tweet me questions for panelists and share your perspective on how business can better align with social impact.