Mwansa Phiri, Matt Gwyn and Pratik Desai speak on the role of young people, the power of inclusive change and their aspirations for the WBA at the launch event which took place during the 73rd United Nations General Assembly.

Note from the authors: Each of us has been a part of the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) in different roles and capacities over the past year and half or so. The following piece is adapted from our remarks at the launch.

The WBA has a genuine opportunity to create seats at the table for those who are often excluded from conversations on sustainable development. Young people in particular have extraordinary potential when it comes to effecting new paradigms that shift the balance of power, highlight innovative and out-of-the-box thinking, and deliver high-impact solutions for those most in need.

We are proud that the WBA represents one of these paradigm shifts – a shift in which all individuals, regardless of age, are empowered to make better informed decisions. We often talk about the free and publicly available nature of the benchmarks we aim to create. The reason that this resonates so strongly with us is because we think it’s important to democratise engagement. If we want to see a radical shift in people’s sense of their own individual power to change the world, then we need to break down barriers – like inability to access information – that limits our agency. That is what we believe will empower people to rethink how we allocate capital, support companies we believe in and advocate for our futures.

If we want to see a radical shift in people’s sense of their own individual power to change the world, then we need to break down barriers – like inability to access information – that limits our agency.

We are also proud that the WBA has already started recognising the creativity, passion and resilience of young people. Earlier this year, the three of us had the incredible opportunity to host a youth-focused consultation in Bonn, Germany, on the WBA and its potential to drive long-term impact on society. Our biggest takeaway from this consultation was the idea that as young people, “we are the biggest beneficiaries of development, while also having the most to lose.” The reality of this means, change cannot be done for us, it must be done with us. We have to ask ourselves, whose voices are valuable to us? Whose experiences inform our work? Because the answers to these questions will show us how inclusive we truly are. This isn’t an easy thing to do. Diverse life experiences bring diverse life perspectives, and it’s not always possible that these will align. But the act of trying will always be needed.

 

An attention to inclusivity within the WBA and its benchmarks can help to ensure that people remain at the heart of what we do. Our global consultations have generated a glimpse into the power of connecting previously disconnected stakeholder groups around the sustainability issues which are affecting their lives. The consultations introduced us to amazingly diverse and powerful networks of individuals and communities – networks that exemplify the local cultures of regions, societies, environments and economies. The WBA should seek to be a platform for collaboration that values the diversity of these human experiences because their experiences have a defining role in shaping how supply chains function, how companies do business, and how consumers buy products.

Human experiences need to therefore be respected, but also celebrated and prioritised in discussions. Part of the fun of our consultations was in experiencing how different places and cultures create different ways of doing and talking about business. It’s certainly kept us on our toes.

We see great learning potential in keeping human experience of business at the root of how we build the Alliance and develop the benchmarks. Over the past year, we’ve often heard that benchmarks will only be as impactful as the number of actors that use them. Business is an integral part of how people experience the world; their interactions within the work- and market-place play a part in shaping business and its wider industries. If we want benchmarks to be truly impactful, they need to resonate with these experiences.

We find it grounding that regardless of how big our global aspirations are, the success of the WBA is fundamentally reliant on the experiences of individuals. The focus is on global companies, but the impact is on people.

And we know that if we are going to deliver on the SDGs, the actions of individuals will be critical. The actions of young people, who make up 1.8 billion people or 22% of the world’s population, will be especially powerful in influencing these global companies to change the way they operate. As the fastest growing population in several regions of the world, young people are changing the rules of the game. From demanding better corporate citizenship, to advocating for responsible production and consumption, to considering how investments align with ESG and, now, SDG criteria, we are at the forefront of illustrating that business success should be determined not just by commercial returns, but also by contributions to society. One of the participants in our Bonn consultation said it best: “A company will never be sustainable if it doesn’t actively consider the younger generation.” The WBA has an important opportunity to help both business understand the power of its young consumers, as well as young people to hold companies accountable by voting with their wallets – and with their values – to deliver impact in the areas where we most need to see progress.

Because at the end of the day, this is all about impact. The SDGs are a clarion call for immediate action, but they’re also a forward-looking agenda to a more inclusive and equitable world by 2030 – a world in which young people have opportunity, agency, and the skills they need to survive and thrive.

Last week, the Secretary-General launched Youth2030: The UN Youth Strategy, which outlines a commitment to ensure that young people are empowered as agents of change. In launching the strategy, the Secretary-General noted that realising the aspirations of young people depends on all of us realising their rights to empowerment and development, participation, and – importantly – choice. He also noted that delivering on this strategy will require bold, and even rebellious, new approaches. The WBA is one these approaches.

As young people ourselves, we can tell you that we are optimists, but we are also impatient for change. And despite the cynicism and stereotypes often perpetuated about millennial attitudes, we can also tell you that we don’t back down from a challenge. We believe in the ability to achieve a better world by 2030. We believe that the SDGs are possible, and that business will play an enormous role in achieving them.

We believe that our generation will be the one that harnesses our collective power to realise a sustainable future that works for all and leaves no one behind.

But we also know that we cannot achieve the SDGs on our own. Young people will be an indispensable part of the solution, but we will need the support and partnership of others, including our community of allies, partners, and supporters, to help us achieve our mission.

Let’s work to realise this future together.