For the past three days I have been at a global summit of World Merit, a charity which I chair, which encourages young people from all over the world to get involved in positive actions within their own community. They do this by supporting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Inevitably, because it is being held in Africa the majority of participants are African but in total, we have more than 400 delegates here from more than 40 countries. White skinned people are in a small minority. White, old blokes are in an even smaller minority!
I have been very struck by two things.
Firstly, the growing power and influence of Africa. Africa is not the ‘dark continent of tribespeople selling cows on a dryish plain or semi-desert and living in huts’, that many people in the UK think. There is a reason we think that because parts of Africa are indeed poor and in need of substantial aid. Increasingly Africa is becoming a global powerhouse. Morocco where our conference is being held has 75% of all the phosphate reserves in the World. They are using that resource to power change and are now one of the global leaders in resource efficiency ranging from water to power production. They are not alone in becoming very quickly a fully developed economy.
I almost cried when people were talking about the commercial opportunities that are being created by companies from Germany, France, Japan and China. This is a continent where almost half the nations have a traditional affinity with the United Kingdom through the Commonwealth. We have done little to foster and improve those links to the mutual benefit of both sides.
Secondly, without a doubt the stars of our conference to date have been the strong, assertive young women of who lead our movement all over the World. In all places, including the UK, they have had to overcome prejudice. We only have to look at the board membership of our FTSE 100 companies to see that so much of our society is led by white-upper middle-class chappies from a certain privileged background. They believe that possession of testicles is the pathway to success!
The problems that they face in the UK are almost as nothing to those faced by their sisters in other parts of the World. I was talking to one 20+ year old who hasn’t seen her family for 3 years because she refused to get married and have children when she was in her teens. She wants to develop her knowledge and capacity and to make her place in the world. She will marry and have children if and when she chooses which might be never.
Inevitably, my thought processes have turned back to Liverpool and the UK in considering what I have seen in Africa. I think that we must as a City and a Country more rapidly to the position where:
- There are more women in positions of power in the public; private and none-profit sectors. It’s not that we need positive discrimination on their behalf. They neither need nor want that. What they want and need is an end to practices which discriminate against them. Women bear children but our system fails to recognise that vital role in a number of ways. They lose out on earnings, promotion, pensions. Assumptions are made that women of a certain age are not worth the ‘risk’ of taking on because they might disappear soon. If we don’t overcome these barriers we are wasting the full potential for our Country of most of the 51% of the population that are women.
- We start to build the links with Africa based on a mutual respect and a recognition of two-way opportunities which will enable us to develop our markets and they can develop theirs. A common language, legal system and partial culture should make us the Country of choice for links with Africa. Too often our attitude has been of contempt and a false sense of superiority.
Coming to World Merit events helps to recharge my batteries. If I could just capture the infectious energy of these young people, I could make a fortune! Talking with people of different cultures gives me ideas about things I can do in my City as the 6 or 7 recent recipients of my emails will already tell you. It is great to see a truly global community come together. People of different countries, faiths and skin tones working with each other to learn and improve our planet. People who have only met on social media become instant friends because they care enough about the same issues to do things to help their communities and by doing things all over the World will help to save that as well.
Ironically, although the two companies which support this global movement of young people are based in the UK (in Liverpool of course), this Country is one of our weakest! If you want to know more about us log on to www.worldmerit.org. If you then want to get involved in action in your own community contact me at email@example.com.