Using Young Professionals as Regional Bait

The following article is a post from our guest blogger, Abe Taleb, co-founder of re|work.

This past Labor Day weekend I had the pleasure of visiting Zurich, Switzerland to attend the One Young World Summit. The One Young World Summit (OYW) is a conference for young people (ages 18-30) to meet and discuss global issues, such as business, health, environment, and religion. The summit in Zurich had 1,200 delegates from 160 different countries. I was selected to be a part of the Pittsburgh Delegation of 30, two-thirds of which was from local corporations (PNC, Bayer, Federated) and the other third from local nonprofits.

It was a very exciting experience, with the highlight of the event getting to be up on stage when Pittsburgh was named the host city for the 2012 Summit (getting to stand next to Muhammad Yunus wasn’t too bad, either). While this is great news for Pittsburgh, it begs the question: is the city ready to host a conference for young leaders? And more broadly, is Pittsburgh doing all that it can to attract young professionals?

While the OYW Summit was a worthwhile and unique experience, it had one inherent failure – instead of delegates engaging in meaningful dialogue, we were merely spoken to. The roster of speakers was, as expected, very impressive (Desmond Tutu, Crown Prince Haakon of Norway, Jamie Oliver, and Wael Ghonim, just to name a few); but rather than having a conversation with the delegates, many of the presentations felt as if they were speaking at us. Though I’m sure their intentions were in the right place – with hopes of inspiring us – what they failed to realize was that inspiration was in all likelihood the one thing that the delegates had even more of to offer.

In my view, this failure stems from the leaders of the OYW Summit, Kate Robertson and David Jones. While they are admittedly both very successful and passionate people, they are of a different generation and have a very different perspective than people our age. Though I very much appreciate their foresight in starting OYW, they should have quickly handed over the reins to leaders closer in age to the actual delegates. It had the feeling of your parents throwing you a party for your 16th birthday, and everything that they thought would be fun, ended up being a little lame. At one point during the 3-day summit, during a conversation on the global role of corporations, Kate Robertson grabbed her microphone and reprimanded the delegates for suggesting that corporations are corrupt. This act upset many of the delegates because it clearly communicated that she was more interested in promoting her own agenda than giving a voice to the attendees.

This all applies to Pittsburgh (and other cities facing the challenge of recruiting young professionals) directly. We need more young people leading initiatives that are focused on recruiting young professionals to our city. I have, on many occasions, found myself at an event focused on the recruitment and retention of young professionals, and realizing that the event itself was not being led by someone of the target demographic. One solution is to support initiatives already being started by young professionals and allowing them to flourish.

One such solution is the Business Bout, a local start-up competition put on by six young professionals who are giving away $5,000 that they raised just by throwing a Barbecue. Their reasoning for holding such a competition is because they want to have a positive impact on the region and see giving away $5,000 to a new business as a great way to do that.

An example that I am fascinated with from another city is MassChallenge, an international start-up accelerator based in Boston, Massachusetts. New companies can apply from any field for MassChallenge, and this each year they gather 100 entrepreneurs to Boston for three months to accelerate their businesses (many of them end up staying for longer). This has had many secondary effects, but most important is that young professionals are attracted to Boston (and not just for school) because they want to be around what is happening at MassChallenge, and to be a part of the positive energy. This is a strong example of an organization that was started and is led by young people but has the support many government officials. Most notably, Governor Deval Patrick, who has been so impressed by the work of organizations like MassChallenge that he declared Massachusetts a “State for Social Innovation.”

My hope is that both Pittsburgh and OYW can learn from successes like MassChallenge and find ways to support initiatives like Business Bout, both which allow young people to lead. For OYW the future success of the summits rely on it becoming a more inclusive and curated experience for the delegates. Hopefully with the Summit coming to Pittsburgh, the past delegates will have a greater role in its planning, and this will translate into more success for the city when it comes to recruiting young people. This is a huge opportunity for Pittsburgh to put itself on the map as a place for young professionals, and we will have an audience of 1,500 delegates from around the world to send that message.

About Guest Blogger, Abe Taleb

re|work, a Pittsburgh based social venture.