One Young World’s Kate Robertson: Young Leaders Are Focused on ‘Much More’ Than We Can Imagine

One Young World’s Kate Robertson

When Kate Robertson speaks about bringing out the best in youth leaders, there’s an undeniable sparkle in her eyes. The former chair of UK Havas Group and global president of Havas Worldwide co-founded One Young World with David Jones in 2009, envisioning a platform where the brightest minds from every nation could connect and drive positive change. Through discussions, funding programs, business partnerships, and an annual summit, Robertson is helping budding change-makers excel one initiative at a time.

“Working with young leaders and seeing the impact they continuously deliver means that One Young World has become bigger and more than we imagined at the time we founded it,” Kate Robertson says.

Robertson’s idea to launch One Young World stemmed from frustration over inertia among established leaders on critical issues like climate change. She was inspired by figures like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who catalyzed seismic societal shifts in South Africa — Robertson’s birth country — through bold, moral leadership.

“I’ve always been hung up on leadership. And it started really from that,” Kate Robertson explains.

She set out to identify and elevate the next generation of ethical, effective pacesetters to tackle mounting global threats. Robertson’s conviction grew as icons like Tutu and Kofi Annan signed on as counselors to speak at the nascent nonprofit’s inaugural summit.

Tackling Urgent Issues With Fresh Perspectives

One key to the forum’s success? Tackling substantive issues through the lens of passionate youth constructively disrupting the status quo.

“We are very much led by the community,” Kate Robertson emphasizes. “The big topics that are discussed at the summit are chosen by the community, not by our staff.”

Never one to shy away from the conversations that truly matter, Kate Robertson and One Young World fearlessly address everything from climate change, hunger, mental health, and the pursuit of peace while partnering with over 500 businesses such as Deloitte, BMW, L’Oréal, AstraZeneca, Novartis, and Siemens, getting its ambassadors real-world experience with global problem-solving.

Robertson adds that seasoned leaders need to mentor more and judge less.

“Older generations need to be cognizant of what they’re doing,” Robertson said in a Hub Culture Davos video. “What I see all over the world is a lot of young leaders being patronized by older leaders.”

She noted that funding young leaders is another crucial piece of the puzzle that’s missing in many cases.

“A lot of the panels that I’ve watched where a young leader is speaking, and God knows they are all impressive, I’ve heard the sentiment now over the last two days somebody on the panel saying, ‘Well, you know if we all do our little bit, it’s going to be great.’ No, it isn’t. There is no decade of action,” Robertson said.

“We are not all doing a little bit. If you and I switch up our lives, drive electric, stop having plastic, it’s going to make a difference but it’s not enough. One percent is not the difference we need. Everybody needs to partner up, collaborate, get governments on board.”

In its 2023 impact report, One Young World affirmed that there’s no single solution for the world’s most pressing challenges, but the nonprofit is betting on future trailblazers to collaborate with intention.

The report explained, “Great leadership is not confined to any single tradition or belief system and has many effective cultural models. “We are all interconnected, and we all belong. Through our transparency and sincerity, we build trust.”

An Enduring Global Community

Looking ahead, One Young World plans to expand its year-round programming while coordinating future summits. This year’s summit will take place in Montreal Sept. 18-21.

“It’s growing faster than we could have ever expected, so far this year we have had more than 70,000 applications — an all-time record,” Kate Robertson shares. “The value and excitement of thousands of young people being there with some incredibly famous world leaders, but also what we derive from seeing the whole world physically in one place is really … It’s a magic thing, which I always knew was a possibility, but it’s fulfilling to me to actually see the dream come to life.”

This year’s summit will feature a distinguished lineup of guest speakers, including visionary author Margaret Atwood; Dame Jane Goodall; David Suzuki; Professor Sylvia Earle; activist Kerry Kennedy; business leader and climate and equality activist Paul Polman; Lord Michael Hastings; Olympian Mark Tewksbury; and Angela F. Williams, CEO and president of United Way Worldwide. Additional high-profile speakers will be announced in the upcoming weeks.

Following discussions with its community, One Young World will introduce a new series of dynamic, action-oriented events this year, designed to empower members to address the repercussions of rising global conflicts and work toward a more peaceful future. Each session will provide ambassadors with a secure environment to discuss how One Young World can effectively mobilize humanitarian aid and champion peace plans.

A Look Back at the Progress One Young World Made in 2023

While the need for more work continues, One Young World had a banner 2023, welcoming 1,952 delegates from more than 190 countries to its Belfast, Northern Ireland, gathering.

“We also expanded our capacity-building programs — Belfast summit delegates were invited to participate in the Action Accelerator, a six-month course to turn their ideas into action,” Robertson and co-founder David Jones stated in the nonprofit’s 2023 impact report.

An Indigenous young leaders strategy was also implemented after consultation with ambassadors from Indigenous backgrounds. Said the founders, “This council will ensure that the voices, perspectives, and needs of Indigenous communities are at the forefront of our decision-making.”

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