AIESEC @ European Business Summit 2015: The power of an individual and how we can awaken Europe’s Youth

Written by Gordon Ching, Global Vice-President and Chief Digital Officer of AIESEC International

Gordon Ching AIESEC

Gordon Ching is Global Vice-President and Chief Digital Officer of AIESEC International

Young people across Europe are facing extreme difficulties in securing high quality employment, leaving many parts of Europe with a lost generation that is does not live up to its potential. While major EU initiatives have given young people a priority, there is a desperate need to awaken a more entrepreneurial Europe that can compete globally. Through AIESEC, I’ve worked directly with many of the world’s largest employers on attracting and developing young talents, and I am also managing one of the world’s largest youth insights surveys called YouthSpeak. I believe that I’ve found some answers for some of Europe’s greatest challenges around youth unemployment, lack of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Europe 2020 strategy has a major focus to improving the education to employment journey, considering that youth unemployment rates are as high as 40-50% in European countries like Greece, Spain, Croatia, Italy and a collective 23% youth unemployment rate within the EU that is double the 9% of adult unemployment. Europe is also risk-averse; 45% have never thought about starting a business; 18% of Europeans have thought about starting a company but gave up on the idea. Europeans need high quality jobs, and awakening its entrepreneurs.

With 30,000 millennials respondents across 50+ economies and growing, the global YouthSpeak survey focuses on understanding what it will take to activate youth potential across the education to employment journey and provides decision makers with a comprehensive understanding of youth opinion.

One category focused on entrepreneurship and found that 61.4% of millennials have plans to become an entrepreneur, 8.7% already are, and within 5 years 31.3% of millennials have plans to become an entrepreneur, 7.9% within 10 years, and 22.5% within 20 years. This leaves us with a gap of 26.9% who have no plans to become an entrepreneur. Millennials around the world in majority, entrepreneurs, and Europe will need to urgently support its future entrepreneurs.

I am advocating for the widening of the educational experience to include the development of core competencies for a more entrepreneurial Europe–including the development of core leadership competencies that enable individuals to thrive in their lifetime, not just survive.

I’ve directly seen the challenges that European youth face across their journey from education to employment. Whether it was a Maria, a Spanish recent graduate who could not find a job or understand what she wanted to do in life; Max, a German student who wanted to become an entrepreneur, but was too afraid to trade stability for opportunity; or Kasia a young professional from Poland who could not effectively speak in public because she had no previous experiences doing so in school–these are just three short examples, but I’ve seen hundreds more.

I believe that young people in Europe through their educational years will need to develop four key leadership elements and this includes:

Self-awareness: In order for Maria to avoid the traps of going in the wrong direction or not being able to understand her life direction, we must enable people like her to better discover their values and understand what they care about. Young people must be exposed to a variety of life experiences in Europe and beyond, experiences such as living independently, volunteering abroad and working in a different culture—these are all challenging experiences that help a young person realize who they are and what they’re good at.

Solution-driven: To empower a culture of innovation, we first need to enable young people to build resilience and the capability to thrive in the face of challenges. Like Max, his great idea will never be born because his fears. We need to empower more people like Max with a greater support system for taking risks and reduce complacency.

Ability to empower others: If Kasia is unable to communicate her vision or ideas to others, then she is fundamentally at a disadvantage. Every young person must learn how to work in a teams and develop their people skills. It requires greater emotional intelligence and an understanding how to work with different types of people and cultures.

World Citizenship: Humanity is faced with significant challenges that extend far beyond local borders, and this has also created great opportunities for those who can navigate the global economy. A global-mindset is needed to see opportunity beyond European borders and connect with the world. European youth must not be to live and work with other cultures, and most importantly to improve European relevance in the world.

How did I arrive at these four? These four leadership elements were designed with extensive research, consultancy and reviews of how we at AIESEC have developed over a million alumni and high-potential leaders across business, politics and civil society. Personally, these are four elements I can strongly advocate for as I started as a volunteer with AIESEC at the age of 18, and had no clue what I wanted to do in life—presently I am 22, and have had dynamic and challenging experiences that have enabled me to realize who I am, and what I can do.

I have hope for a more innovative Europe that truly awakens its potential by first developing the power of an individual’s leadership capabilities. These are competencies that activate an individual to achieve regardless of where and what they want to do. Let’s go Europe!

About the author

Gordon Ching is Chief Digital Officer of AIESEC International, one of the world’s largest youth-led organizations developing the leadership potential of young people worldwide. Managing global digital strategy, he is leading digital transformation and marketing initiatives, and working together with organizations ranging from Fortune 500 to the United Nations on youth engagement and development. A strong advocate for youth, he is managing YouthSpeak, a global youth movement and insight survey that identifies the challenges and hopes for activating the potential of millennials worldwide. At 22, Gordon was nicknamed the world’s youngest Chief Digital Officer by the CDO Club in 2014, and is a Chinese-Canadian from Vancouver, Canada. 

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