Give the world a foothold for change Photography

Thing we need is for the younger generation to be given the opportunity to solve global problems

Continent Kate Robertson


The ageing world insists that nothing changes — everything that is always has been and always will be. The eternally youthful world is confident that everything can be changed, and for the better, when will is good and goals are high. And perhaps the most curious thing is that we are not talking about a division, but about the simultaneous existence of these two worlds in time and space. Today’s twenty-year-olds, attentive to their physical and mental well-being, expect to live active, healthy lives until the age of 100. Today’s 50-yearolds strive to keep up, propagating the «50 is new 40» idea, exchanging their old bad habits for yoga and blockchain. The conflict of generations, for the first time in history, boils down to a dispute over the possibility of changing the world for the better. Kate Robertson, co-founder of the international forum for positive action One Young World, certainly belongs to a young world that believes in the possibility of a better future for the whole Earth.

Everything I do is based on the knowledge that it is indeed possible for countries and peoples to change for the better, not as an ever-elusive ideal, but in actual practice. I’ve seen, in South Africa, a new way of life take shape as the principles of apartheid were rejected and dispensed with.

One of my most vivid memories concerns the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. A necessary digression: when I was a child, living in South Africa, the country was barred from the Olympics due to the practice of segregation. It should be borne in mind that South Africans are big sport fans; sport means a great deal, and we were all rather sensitive about the punishment of being excluded from the Olympic movement. I remember how, as an eight-yearold girl, I dreamt of our athletes winning gold medals.

And so, being in Barcelona in 1992, and seeing the whole world gathered together in one stadium was a fantastic thing; it was very exciting. It was the first time that South Africa, after having long been suspended, was allowed to participate in the Olympics. We were represented by a small team, acting under a neutral Olympic flag, but what was most important was that we had returned to the Olympic family of countries.

When I attended the Athens Olympics in 2004, watching its extraordinary opening ceremony, I noticed that while people made a lot of noise for the Greek team (as they were the hosts), the loudest applause went to the two smallest teams, Afghanistan and Iraq. They consisted of three and five people, respectively, whose names no one will ever remember. But the crowd was screaming, welcoming them, and then you go: «Well, why? Why are we cheering for these people?» And it’s because it’s our humanity speaking, saying: «You are my brother, and I’m sorry for what you’re going through.»

And then, with extraordinary clarity, I felt and understood that this was how we should react when we see that others are suffering. We are supposed to think: «I don’t care who you are, where you are from. The important thing is that what’s happening to you is bad, and you have my support. » The Olympics are something of an ideal world, where everybody, together in one space, behaves decently, where everybody is a brother.

But unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in, that’s not the way we live. And then, when you look at the history of the Olympic Games, it becomes clear that today, much about them has strayed from the original intention. I think one of the tragedies of the modern Olympic movement is that the Olympic truce is not being respected. What the Olympics really mean is the halting of war — that we compete against each other, but we stop killing each other.

I think that this approach to life is very different from the one in which we actually exist. And it is very different from the one used between governments. Looking at the work of the UN today, perhaps a romantic view would say it should be like the Olympic movement. But for a lot of reasons, it isn’t.

The UN is a good thing, but let’s face it, it doesn’t function. There are good ambassadors in many countries, but what I see is not just ambassadors — there are 27,000 other people, committees, planning rooms, departments, committees, and bureaucracy, and committees. It’s not even a question of whether there’s dialogue; it’s really about the impossibility of taking action within such a cumbersome structure. I know that there are some good people there, but I simply cannot believe it takes 27,000 of them. I can’t believe that.

If you look at the problems that the world is facing today, especially the younger generation — climate change, the epidemic of viral diseases, the global financial crisis — none of these are national problems; they’re all multinational. To solve them, we need a functional, global organization focused on solving real global problems, and not a platform for political confrontation, like the United Nations.

See, the trouble with this is that no one nation state can fix anything. So, China can decide, okay, we ARE worried about climate change, we’ve indeed got a significant problem. But then the United States responds with, well, we don’t care. This is a problem that everybody has to care about. The same goes for problems with the global tax system. If every country and every tax haven and everyone were taxing corporations at the same rate, whatever that rate might be, you wouldn’t have off-shore money. You would have less corruption built into the system. Just imagine. But, because nation states aren’t prepared to work together like they do at the Olympics, there’s no solution. I don’t believe that mankind can survive, survive in a good way, if we don’t work together. I just don’t see it.

Another thing we need is for the younger generation to be given the opportunity to solve global problems. This generation, thirty and under, is the most informed, the most educated, and the most connected generation in human history. There’s never been one like it. It’s completely different, and it can cause great change. Now, we’re seeing the United States is going backwards to some extent. I think they’ve got a few problems going on. It seems to me, then, that this century is China’s century. That also worries me, because I’m 100 percent certain that young people around the world: — from Russia, the States, Britain, Germany, Nigeria, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico, so on — they don’t understand Chinese youth. There are huge cultural differences.
And, in the interest of the future, in the interest of progress, we must overcome cultural deafness and misunderstanding.

Let’s take a simple thing: in Mandarin, as in many of the Chinese dialects, there isn’t a word for truth. There is actually no concept of truth. Compare that to western society, where truth is a big deal. Chinese doesn’t have a concept of truth; it doesn’t even have a word for it. So, to the western eye, that means ‘Oh, they’re all lying.’ No, they’re not. They just communicate in a different way. A completely different way. So where do you go with that? How will young people communicate with a society in which there is no such thing as «truth»? With a society that sees it in a different way. This doesn’t make them wrong, it just means that we need to make efforts to understand each other.

I look at Africa because I grew up there. The entire African continent has more minerals than the whole world needs. More oil and minerals than anyone will ever need. And there are fantastic people there. Absolutely amazing people. Besides people, Africa’s wealth today remains mineral. The big industry is mining, most of which is currently being invested in and run by the Chinese. Russia’s got a big share in it, as does the US. But the action, the movement, the growth percentage is Chinese. I know that the young people who are going to be leading the black African trade unions over the next 20 years don’t know any Chinese people. And I know that the young Chinese people who will be running those mining companies don’t know black people. I grew up in Africa, I know how different my culture is from the black people that I grew up with. It’s enormously different. We have to try to understand. And yet, when you put two people together, they still see that it’s a human being, it’s the same animal, standing before them. They can still talk to each other, they still empathise.

But the systems don’t work the same way. There is no cultural understanding. So we’re working very hard at One Young World to make this change. We work diligently, we pay for the refugees to be there, we pay for all the small countries to be there. Because they have to be. There can be no failed states. We know now that everything goes wrong around them. Whether we’re talking about Afghanistan, Somalia, Ecuador, or Guinea-Bissau. The world simply can’t affordv failed states. Nobody can. China can’t afford to have them, nor can Russia, nor the United States. We must ensure that the world family unites. When I see all these delegates, these amazing young people at One Young World, I think that the world has a chance. Because they’re young, they have hope, they are inventive, engaged in real affairs. They’re open to compassion and are willing to spend the necessary time and effort in reaching an understanding with people, regardless of what race or class they belong to.