- May 7 2015
Magic Johnson shared these words in a video that kicked off the panel between generations on Day Two of the Quality of Life conference.
The athlete-turned-entrepreneur runs a foundation that is tackling dire issues in American inner cities. In his video, Johnson emphasized that the critical element for improving society over the long term is investing in the next generation. His foundation provides scholarships and internships to underprivileged young people so they can gain valuable experience and develop the right skills. It has built learning centers giving minorities access to state-of-the-art technology, thus closing the digital divide.
Johnson pointed out the potential return on investment of including minorities: African Americans and Latinos combined represent a whopping two trillion dollars in spending power in the United States. “Look to urban America,” he said, “you can be very successful, you can drive ROI, and also you can change a community.”
After Johnson’s introduction, three exceptional young people representing the Sodexo Future Leaders Initiative took the stage. They were Paras Fatnani, from India, Global Ambassador for Project Chirag, which provides solar lighting to off-grid rural households; Celine Göbel, from Germany, a graduate student of International Finance at HEC in Paris; and Esther Soma, from South Sudan, a Yale University student and President of the Yale African Students Association.
Joining them were three seasoned Quality of Life leaders: Shelly Lazarus, Chairman Emeritus of Ogilvy & Mather; Sanjeev Sahni, a director at Jindal Global University; and Kristy Waters, Senior VP of Performance Management and Innovation at Tenet Healthcare Corp.
To jumpstart the conversation, Matthew Bishop, globalization editor at the Economist, offered some intriguing data from two brand new Sodexo studies on how current international leaders and future leaders value Quality of Life: 57 percent of current leaders totally agree that Quality of Life impacts the performance of their organization, while this number rises to 69 percent for next generation leaders. When respondents ranked Quality of Life as performance drivers, the intergenerational divide widened. Future leaders selected Quality of Life as number one, while senior leaders put it in fifth position.
Each leader was asked to share their opinion on what were the difficulties of their generation. Shelly Lazarus put forth how “her generation had transformed the world, both in the personal and professional spheres” but admitted that “it was still struggling to ‘walk the talk’” in terms of quality of life. Esther Soma admired her generation’s passion and desire to improve the world, but regretted its unwillingness to listen to or learn from the older generation. Fatnani mentioned the impatience of young people: “We look for instant gratification.”
Among the many topics discussed during the panel, technology and its impact on quality of life was a source of heated debate. Unsurprisingly the younger generation was comfortable with the fact that technology represented an unprecedented opportunity to connect and improve quality of life of people everywhere in the world. Celine Göbel said that “technology offered the possibility to bring education in even the remotest places in the world and that was worth doing.” However, the older generation had an uneasy relationship with technology. They felt that it had degraded how people interact with each other and with work. Kristy Walters admitted that “it was difficult not to be always ‘on’ and that has a direct impact on my Quality of Life”.
As a closing remark, Soma asked that the older generation give the younger leaders “the freedom to do what they needed to do and to believe in them.”
“We’ve just got to give the next generation a chance so that they can change the world.”
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