Kate Robertson: ‘The world lacks great leadership’

October 16, 2018 8:00 am

Ahead of One Young World The Hague, we sat down with  OYW co-founder Kate Robertson to ask her some burning questions.

Why did you start One Young World?
”We started One Young World as we believe that the world actually has everything it needs concerning resources, whether that be land, money or people. The one thing that it does lack, however, is great leadership. This is not only the case for governments, but also for civil society and corporations. The generation of people under the age of 20 is the most informed, most educated and most connected generation in human history, and I believe that these young leaders could and should make the world a better place.”

Is this ‘One Young World generation’ not represented by our current world leaders?
”I think that there is distinctively a generational divide. What we have noticed in the last nine years is that in every country, if you ask young people whether they think governments have been active in mitigating the effects of climate change they will say “I don’t understand why nothing has been done”. Another example would be looking at statistics and crying about rising inequality. What we find with the young leaders we are working with, is that they are not so interested in statistics. They are interested in what we are actually doing about it. They do not see the concrete action they expect.”

What has One Young World achieved in 8 years?
”The first One Young World Summit was held in London in 2010. Since then we have met more than 9000 young leaders from 196 countries who have impacted the lives of almost 18 million people. That doesn’t include the impact of young leaders working inside great corporations who are changing those corporations to make them a force for good. Their impact is significant. Some of them are already taking up positions in government. There are a couple of cabinet ministers, some have started their own companies, and from OYW Bogota 2017 we had our first Nobel Prize nominee from Gambia, Jaha Dukureh.

In our annual impact report, we examine, in depth, 50 of the projects from 50 of our Ambassadors around the world to see how their efforts contributed to the SDG’s. That could be having female genital mutilation outlawed in The Gambia or having the first Chinese born person elected for parliament in the United Kingdom. The range of activities is astonishing.”

Kofi Annan was one of the main figures since the start of One Young World and passed away in August 2018. How would you define is legacy?
”Kofi Annan joined the OYW movement as a Counsellor in 2010 and was with us every year after that. The reason he was there was that he really believed in our mission to find and lift up the profiles and impact of young leaders all over the world. He really did believe that young leaders could make the difference that he was looking for.

We miss him enormously. He is an inspiring figure, truly a great man. A painstakingly honest man. One who never sought to cover up failure or to dissimulate in any way. But to face things head on and try to address them. We have heard him say the same thing to young leaders again and again: you must get organised, you must keep going, your work is urgent, you must be persistent.”

In all those years, which young leader’s story had the most impact on you?
”I think over the last eight years we have had so many impactful stories; it is hard to choose just one. But in terms of shared global presence and numbers, the one that probably had the most impact was the story of Yeonmi Park, the North-Korean defector who came to One Young World in Dublin, 2014. She became the leading figure and dissident protesting against the conditions in North Korea. The first issue of her speech had over 4 million views on our YouTube channel, and the second issue (posted two years later via Facebook video) today has ten of millions of views and shares.”

Who was your inspiration when you were the same age as the 1.800 + young delegates coming to The Hague?
”I think when I was young living in South Africa, media was very limited because it was controlled by the state. So the truth is, there was a shortage of inspiring stories. Once apartheid ended and Nelson Mandela emerged from his prison, the scale and potential for impact of that story made him Times Man of the Century. I  don’t think that any South African would say someone different.

Beyond that, now and then you see people and things that inspire you. Nowadays, very controversially, for me, it’s the young people at Stoneman Douglas in Florida, whose friends were killed in the school shooting and who have taken on the NRA. They inspire me every day. And I’m absolutely overwhelmed by their courage and persistence.”

The Hague is this year’s host city of One Young World. What makes this location so unique?
”We were very impressed with the host city bid which The Hague did two years ago. The Hague is obviously the home of all the international institutions of justice. For us, the importance of these institutions for young leaders around the world cannot be overstated. A world without these great institutions protecting human rights, dispensing justice and being the pinnacle of justice is a world where the rule of law doesn’t operate, and that is not a world where anyone wants to live.

More than that we felt that the Netherlands has its own story to tell. In terms of its landmass, it is a tiny country. It does not have a massive population. But it is actually a leading country globally. How can this happen? Well, this is the miracle of the Netherlands. Every smaller or less populous nation-state can look to the Netherlands and see: if that is how life can be, that is how we want it to be. The Netherlands is a greatly civilized country and a fitting guardian of human rights, so we particularly wanted OYW 2018 to be held here in The Hague.”

What would you personally advice young leaders?
”It is not so much advice, but rather my hope is to see the brilliant young leaders we work with today emerge in positions of power. Where they are really calling the shots. I look at the young people we work with around the world and I just imagine that they will become the leaders of the G20, then they can lay me down and carry me away because then my work is done. Because once they are there leading companies and governments the world will be a better place! I have to believe that, it is not advice, but certainly a call to action.”