Key lessons on leadership from the 25 Voices initiative were presented at last month’s Global Youth Forum, hosted online by #Coops4Dev. The initiative was launched in early 2021 to promote the World Cooperative Congress. Three members of 25 Voices formed the “It’s Now and Forever” panel and called for “cross-generational and inclusive” leadership and urged the cooperative movement to remove barriers between younger and older members.

“We need to form a bridge to encourage ideas from the young and embrace the leadership and guidance from the more experienced,” said Sylandi Brown, 22, a communications specialist from Middle Georgia EMC, an electric cooperative in the USA. “By dismantling generational stereotypes and strengthening multi-generational relationships, we are subsequently building a brighter cooperative future.”

Sarah Jensen 22, from Castlegreen Housing Cooperative in Ontario, Canada, was 18 when she became the youngest board member of her housing cooperative. Growing up in this community with her single mother, she witnessed the importance of inter-generational leadership and communications at an early age.

“I was an active cooperative member from the age of seven, first as a volunteer, then as a board member,” said Sarah. “I was always surrounded by cooperative members who were old enough to be my grandparents, and that helped me understand them and their needs, and also vice versa. Today, one of my priorities is to work in youth education to give them the same experience.”

Giving younger people a seat at the table and offering multi-generational support is important. After completing high school five years ago, and without any money to pay for a college education, Smayah Uwajeneza, 22, joined Question Coffee, a social enterprise that teaches cooperative women farmers how to grow and produce coffee and unlock their full potential as farmers and entrepreneurs.

“That same year, I was chosen to be a LEAD scholar, a programme to increase leadership diversity within the global coffee community,” said Smayah. “I was given a platform to educate people around the world about coffee and represent the coffee farmers in Rwanda. Today, I am a full-time student attending University of Kigali pursuing a law degree.”

The panel also discussed the need to address the natural tendency of their generation to be more competitive with each other, rather than collaborative. And they agreed that the strong solidarity, energy and passion among youth, especially seen and felt in the last year with a civil rights movement that transcended borders, could be channeled into cooperation.

The Global Youth Forum was an event that brought together young entrepreneurs and professionals from around the world to offer them quality training sessions to improve their skills, knowledge and motivation. The GYF 2021 was organised within the framework of the Partnership on International Development, signed between the ICA and the European Commission (#coops4dev), in collaboration with the ICA Youth Network.

Go here to view a recording of this session and others. Click here to learn more about the 25 Voices initiative.