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Global shapers

Manuela Kasper-Claridge / hgJanuary 24, 2014

None are older than 33, and yet they're mingling with high-profile policymakers and business leaders in Davos. Numbering roughly 3,000, the influential young people are members of the WEF's Global Shapers Community.

Young WEF participants
Image: WEF

It was sweltering hot in her hometown when 31-year-old Marinna Diaz left for the chilly Davos in Switzerland. She's an advocate for climate change, and she anchors an environment TV program in Argentina.

She has met Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), and debated global policy issues with him. She wants to help bring about change.

"Since the 1980s, we've used up a third of all natural resources," said Diaz. "If we continue along this path, there will soon be nothing left for the younger generation. We have to stop."

Diaz and her fellow activists think nothing of living a calm and pleasant life. Mushfiq Hasanov is 29 and comes from Azerbaijan. He's a chess ace - he's won medals - and he's also been picked as Azerbaijan's Global Shaper spokesman.

"I'm here to learn how to resolve problems and what to pay attention to while doing so," he said. He said it's great to be an official participant in the WEF, and adds that he'd be all too glad to meet Bill Gates.

Global shapers in New York
Global shapers bring a serious agenda to DavosImage: DW

Behind the podium

Maria Fanjul, from Spain, knows a thing or two about digital technology. At 28, she's in charge of her country's largest online ticket portal, entradas.com. At the WEF, she's on a panel together with Alcoa chairman Klaus Kleinfeld, Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent and Al Falih, who heads one of the largest oil companies in Saudi Arabia.

Fanjul talks about youth unemployment, and what the public and private sectors can do to rein it in. Something has to be done, she insists. Together with other young activists, Fanjul has hammered out an action plan which among other things argues that people as young as 15 should start acquiring entrepreneurial skills.

Worldwide, there are already 320 locations included in a so-called Global Shapers Hub, a network of social entrepreneurs. In Quito, Ecuador, they are active in slums, while in Rangoon, Myanmar, they support young business people. It's the youngest group at the WEF, and it's quite interconnected.

Sleepless nights

Global Shapers in New York
The young have a legitimate right to make their voices heard in DavosImage: DW

But not everyone meeting in Davos this year is in a good mood. Natalya Gumenyuk works for hromadske.com in Kyiv, an independent TV station in Ukraine of which she's a co-founder.

Gumenyuk has been shocked at the bloody toll the recent political unrest in her country has taken. She's constantly on the phone, trying to keep abreast of developments back home. She says it's hard for her to even fall asleep because of the constant worries.

In Davos, Gumenyuk draws people's attention to what's going on in Ukraine, with a number of events specifically dealing with the situation there. But a lot of what's said is off the record, not meant for the general public. Which at least means people don't have to mince their words - something that all participants appreciate, not just the youngest.