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Davos 2023: Young 'Global Shapers' hungry for change

Manuela Kasper-Claridge in Davos, Switzerland
January 16, 2023

A few dozen young people have been invited to this year's World Economic Forum. They are just some of the 10,000 members of the Global Shapers network and want to make their voices heard as they demand change.

Wanjuhi Njoroge, a Kenyan environmental and education activist
Wanjuhi Njoroge, a Kenyan environmental and education activistImage: Micheal Waiyaki

"I saw a man walking toward my school. He was wearing worn-out shoes. Then I realized it was my father and suddenly I was incredibly proud. Because I knew that he had invested everything he had in my education."

Wanjuhi Njoroge sits wrapped up in a thick quilted coat in a Davos hotel as she tells this story. It is cold and snowing outside. She is a member of the Global Shapers Community network and has come to Switzerland from Nairobi to attend the World Economic Forum (WEF). The environmental and education activist grew up in a small Kenyan village. Her father was a farmer and her mother was a teacher. 

Snow covered Davos, Switzerland, the setting for the World Economic Forum
Snow covered Davos, Switzerland, where global shapers and the powerful come togetherImage: Gian Ehrenzeller/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

Programming in the countryside

For the family getting their children a good education was a priority. Still, Njoroge only learned how to use a computer in high school. But she realized very early on that access to technology means access to education. Now through her advocacy she is making sure that more and more young people from rural areas of Kenya are learning to work with computers. She wants them to have the opportunities it took her a long time to find.

Another important issue for her is reforestation and rescuing Kenya's indigenous trees. #SaveOurForestsKE is the name of the campaign she launched in 2018. And in that short time she says "it led to a total ban on forest harvesting" in Kenya. But then she hesitates for a moment. It's as if she has a vision of devastated forests and says, "I have seen the impact of climate change." 

Global Shapers meet world leaders in Davos

But what do Kenyan trees have to do with the World Economic Forum? Wanjuhi Njoroge thinks they have a lot to do with it. The WEF offers a unique platform for exchange. It is a place where people can learn from each other, share and discuss projects, and come up with action plans. First of all the young Global Shapers can get together among themselves. They additionally have the opportunity to sit with the decision makers who attend the WEF.

"I meet African presidents here, something that would otherwise hardly be possible," Njoroge says. With her work and her presence in Davos she wants to promote change by shaking things up. She is determined to keep climate and environmental protection a top priority for world leaders. 

Roman Smolynets, a doctor from Lviv, Ukraine
Roman Smolynets wants to make sure world leaders don't forget about the war in UkraineImage: Privat

Young Ukrainians and the consequences of war

Roman Smolynets has come to the meeting with something completely different in mind. His face betrays the hard work of the last few weeks and months. The 24-year-old Ukrainian is from Lviv where he works as an anesthetist in the largest hospital in Western Ukraine.

He doesn't know how many victims of the Russian war of aggression he has seen in the operating room. But some of the images he just can't seem to get out of his head. Among them is a 6-year-old girl who lost both of her legs in a missile attack. "I saw terrible things during my work," he says in a reflective voice.

It took Smolynets two days of traveling to get to Davos. He is also a member of the Global Shapers Community network. For months, besides his normal job at the hospital he made sure that much-needed medical supplies were donated to Ukraine. He worked with Support Ukraine Now!, a project that was initiated by the two Global Shapers Community hubs based in Ukraine. Now he wants to ensure that the war and its consequences are back at the top of the WEF's agenda.

"I need to be the voice of Ukraine," he says proudly and plans to take part in as many discussions as he can in Davos over the next few days. He is worried that the world's attention span is waning and support for Ukraine may waver. "We have war in Europe, there can't be fatigue," he emphasizes, putting on his rather thin coat.

Tariq Al Olaimy
Tariq Al-Olaimy is ready to have tough conversations to make a better futureImage: privat

While Smolynets heads out into the snow for his next meeting, Tariq Al-Olaimy from Manama, Bahrain, also part of the Global Shapers Community, sums up the young people's mission in one sentence. "We are the next leaders, we aim for diversity and we need to have a more radical conversation."

This article was originally written in German.