Generation Next

I just finished watching a CNN International presentation in my hotel room in Sao Paulo. It was an extraordinary production called “India’s Generation Next”. What made it special from my perspective is that it was a genuine conversation of many young people, accented with dialogue with 5 prominent Indians, including two celebrities from the entertainment industry, a politician and two prominent business people.

The program, very well produced and hosted by two of CNNs social commentary people, focused on a variety of important questions and issues, such as the ongoing struggle in the country between becoming a modern democracy and being trapped in what many believe is an impossibly conservative culture. The issues discussed ranged from where the youth stand on topics such as arranged marriages, the lack of the empowerment of women, the discrimination of more than 600 million of India’s lower caste, and the amazing economic transformation that is underway in their country.

Of India’s billion or so people, roughly half are under twenty-five. A survey showed that more than two-thirds of the young people claim to be very socially aware and concerned about issues ranging from the environment to corruption, unemployment to inequality of women, and the growing gap between urban and rural culture. Yet, only 5% said they were doing anything related to their concerns. Almost 90% said they wanted to be involved but were waiting for something or someone else to show the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. Roughly half of the young people were looking to the older generation to point the way or ‘ignite’ the process of change and transformation they all agreed was needed. The paradox between seeing and wanting change and being stuck in the status quo was remarkable—particularly in light of the fact their reality is changing at light speed irrespective of what they think or want.  

The program brought home to me the demographic ‘crunch’ that is happening in many countries—an aging population growing older with a cultural expectation of decline and becoming dependent on the younger generation to drive the economic engine necessary to sustain the social infrastructures and pension systems necessary for them to survive. I am reminded of the UN population forecast that 10% of the world’s population is over 60, and it’s expected that figure will double by 2050.

I don’t know what the economics of this will be, but I do believe we cannot write off these kinds of numbers of people as being ‘past their prime’. It is clear to me that the older generation must assume responsibility for the whole, put on our leadership jackets (not take them off) and begin to work with the young to create a world and a future that works for all of us. We may not need or be able to work for a living as we did for most of our career, but we can and should keep working to leave the world  in better shape than we found it.

I wonder… if CNN’s show and surveys had been with the 50 to 70-year-old generation whether the results would have been the same as with the young (in that they want to make a difference but don’t act on that desire). I suspect so.

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