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How businesses can harness the ideas of the changemaker generation

Companies should tap into the diverse thinking of the next generation to co-create a more sustainable future and drive innovation, says elea Professor of Social Innovation Vanina Farber.
October 2020

As more organizations embrace purpose within their corporate strategies, it makes sense to involve the purpose-driven mindset and ideas of young people to challenge existing business models and improve performance while also contributing to positive impact on people and the planet.

Speaking at a Global Child Forum Digital ActionLab focused on listening to the changemaker generation this week, Professor Farber joined global experts in a session hosted by Queen Silvia of Sweden to explore how the emerging generation of youth are impacting decision making in politics, commerce and wider society.

“Companies are already looking for ways to tap into Generation Z purchasing power and engagement power, but also their power to deliver a vision unconstrained by internal limitations and cost challenges,” Farber explained.

“The uncompromising forward-looking power of youth pushes executives out of their comfort zone, and many businesses are realizing that this is a good thing,” she said.

From the dynamism of youth entrepreneurship to the creation of youth shadow boards, youth agency is becoming a clear driver of innovative market solutions.

Beyond the value of young people as consumers and employees, there is considerable scope for the corporate world to drive transformation and innovation through youth agency recognition, she said.

“Many corporates struggle with how to get their people to think creatively – to challenge the status quo – while still keeping their everyday operations running smoothly,” the Director of IMD’s elea Center for Social Innovation observed.

How can leaders empower and harness the energy and potential of young people to reap the benefits of new ways of thinking?

Support youth entrepreneurship

The European Union’s 2020 growth strategy gives particular emphasis to entrepreneurship. Many young people have grown up in a world where the “job for life” is a relic of the past, sparking a wave of youth entrepreneurship. Youth entrepreneurship boosts competitiveness and employment. It has the potential to build a new economic dynamic by generating growth, jobs and innovation. Policymakers and private capital should build frameworks that encourage more young people to become entrepreneurs.

Empower youth employees and audiences

Younger generations feel a greater sense of control and influence in the workplace than they do in wider society. Young talent is also becoming more selective about which companies to work for. Young people are starting to use this influence to put pressure on corporates to improve their social and environmental impact. At the same time, as companies look to social media to engage with their customers, young people can act as positive – and negative – influencers. Corporates need to maintain credible approaches to environmental, social and governance policies and communications to attract the best talent and build loyalty among young audiences.

Create a youth shadow board

Diversity of thought is rapidly emerging as a necessary factor in driving effective decision-making. As research by IMD Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior Jennifer Jordan has shown, some household names, such as Accor and Gucci, are starting to leverage insights from young people by creating shadow boards to diversify the perspectives that their executives and governance bodies are exposed to. These boards can get involved in a variety of ways, from meeting regularly with senior teams to generating new ideas or reviewing organizational processes. “Youth can be a source of agility and innovation for traditional business models,” Farber said.


While there are many ways to engage younger people with businesses, the impetus to implement change still rests with the generations that hold the decision-making power, Farber emphasised.

“It’s important to collaborate and co-create with, and take inspiration from, young people – and to give them a seat at the table – but the responsibility is still ours to act, and to act now,” she said.

Other speakers at the Global Child Forum Digital ActionLab event included University of Bayreuth Professor of African Legal Studies Thoko Kaime, Our Children’s Trust Executive Director Julia Olson, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations Liaison Officer for Public Health Issues Omnia El Omrani and Lana Weidgenant, Deputy Partnerships Director at Zero Hour International and Vice-Chair of Shifting to Sustainable Consumption Patterns for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021.