During its recent annual meeting, the World Economic Forum decided to bring Davos closer to the world and the world closer to Davos.
“Shaping Davos,” a game-changing global dialogue, was brought to life by Global Shapers, an international community of entrepreneurially-minded young leaders in cities across the world.
For this new initiative – which has the potential to become an annual Forum tradition – 40 cities were selected to engage their communities in local events and then bring forward ideas in 10 virtually connected panel discussions on topics ranging from public-private partnerships to education reform, sustainability, innovation, youth engagement and conflict resolution.
Global Shapers Ottawa Hub was selected to present Canada’s perspective with Manila, Madrid and Tunis in a panel discussion moderated by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the president and CEO of the New America Foundation, on the theme of “Rethinking Politics.”
Seeking a unique angle, Ottawa organized a stimulating discussion at the Rideau Club titled “Canada’s role in the Future of Governance: Open Government, Engaged Citizens.” Moderated by CTV’s Mercedes Stephenson, the diversity of speakers and panelists from public, private and nonprofit sectors ensured that a varied range of ideas and key takeaways were relayed to Davos in the voice of Evan Solomon, CBC’s Power and Politics host and Ottawa’s selected virtual panelist.
Inevitably, the panelists addressing government’s openness and engagement of its citizens turned their attention to civic apathy and that of youth in particular. Civic engagement goes beyond voting, but filling out a ballot is without a doubt a crucial component.
One quarter of the Canadian population are Millennials “driven by equality, authenticity, community empowerment, and justice,” said Giovanna Mingarelli, CEO and co-founder of PlayMC2 and Ottawa Global Shaper. They want to make a difference; they are less cynical and full of untapped potential; they stand up for worthy causes and participate in protests, boycotts, and demonstrations. The problematic thing is that they do not vote, which is a critical issue for the legitimacy of our democracy.
There is a clear “disconnect between institutions and youth, between young voters and other kinds of civic and community engagement,” explained Ilona Dogherty, founder of Apathy is Boring. They do, however, utilize social media to express ideas and take action on issues that matter to them. This is what is often referred to as “#slacktivism”, identified as the phenomenon of uncoordinated online action and cooperation – giving Facebook likes to different causes, and perpetuating the hash tag culture. The question is, “how do we turn that into a level of engagement?” Mingarelli asked.
Still, capturing and aggregating data from these platforms is worthwhile as it can help governments better understand what young people are doing and care about in real time and how they can be more engaged.
Technology is there to help governments target citizens and empower them, said Paul Heinbecker, Canada’s former Ambassador to the United Nations. But technology alone does not successfully address the citizen engagement challenge, argued Dougherty. Voting is a generational issue and it is imperative that the habit is developed early with first-time voters.
“We need civic education that engages in order to have civic engagement,” said Maryantonett Flumian, president of the Institute on Governance. “It is important to remember that by voting, we give responsibility to somebody else; we aren’t walking away from it.”
Statistics presented by Dougherty showed that at present 60 percent of young eligible voters do not go to the polls. Yet, while only one third of them cast a ballot, two-thirds claim they vote because they realize it is the right thing to do.
Young voters are ready for the responsibility highlighted by Flumian. It is in the government’s interest to want to address youth voter apathy for at least two reasons.
First, we should want young people involved because they represent “fluid intelligence” with a great “capacity for innovation on overdrive,” Dougherty said.
Second, if young first-time voters are not engaged now, in twenty years only 40 percent of the overall population will be voting and that is a democratic stalemate with a potential to be detrimental to Canada’s role in the future of governance.