When a devastating explosion hit Beirut in August 2020, Nadine Khaouli was driving from her Lebanese village into the city centre. The blast was “one twentieth the power of an atomic bomb,” Khaouli later recalled, and so strong that she could feel its reverberations several miles away. The blast came at a hard time for her home country, which was ravaged by economic hardships that had been accelerated by lockdown, but Khaouli wasn’t deterred. Earlier that year she had co-founded Kafe be Kafak (Hand in Hand), a grassroots nonprofit organization with a mission to end poverty and bring essential dignity to every person in Lebanon. What started as an Instagram page quickly became a movement, and by the end of 2020 Kafe be Kafak had provided crisis triage, supplies, and shelter for 10,412 individuals.
It’s this work which caught the attention of Benjamin Braun, the Chief Marketing Officer (Europe) of Samsung. Inspired by “the resilience of Anne Frank, the creativity of Mozart and Einstein, and the focused belief in doing the right thing from Ruth Bader Ginsberg,” Braun set about supporting the next generation of leaders who are harnessing technology and driving positive change on a global scale. Thus Samsung’s Generation17 Young Leaders programme was born.
First launched in 2019, Generation17 is a collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that elevates the voices of young change-makers like Khaouli who are working to achieve the UN’s 17 Global Goals by 2030. “Support networks and peer groups, like our Generation17 programme with the UNDP, have always been the bedrock of successful leaders around the world,” Braun says. It’s a sentiment echoed by Kristian Kampmann, a 2022 Young Leader who runs the nonprofit UNLEASH, a global platform that supports young entrepreneurs working on social and environmental challenges, “Every young person can be an entrepreneur when given the right support,” he says. “That is the social DNA that drives me.”
Joining Khaouli and Kampmann in this year’s cohort is Tafara Mazaka, the co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Fixa, a platform that aims to connect corporations with pre-vetted, reliable young workers across Africa. “During a holiday in Zimbabwe, I met up with a few of my friends who had recently graduated but couldn’t secure full-time jobs,” Mazaka says. “This made me curious about what people with no higher education were experiencing. This pushed me to find a solution that leveraged technology to provide stable jobs for Africa’s youth.”
Below, the three Generation17 Young Leaders share advice for aspiring leaders, the importance of utilising technology for positive change, and what they hope to achieve in the future.
What do you consider the world’s most pressing challenges?
Kristian: “Youth unemployment. Today, there are 1.2 billion young people ages 15 to 24 years old. Youth can be such a force for positive social and environmental development, but they need the skills and opportunities to thrive.”
Nadine: “The continuous economic crisis, increasing prices of basic needs, the lack of security, and political instabilities are the biggest challenges for us now.”
Tafara: “Access to decent and sustainable employment for all. Africa is the last economic frontier. The median age is 25 and by 2050, 25% of the global population will be African. To keep up with the demand we need to create the future of work for 300 million people on the continent.”
What are your long term goals for your initiative?
Kristian: “I hope UNLEASH will grow into the world’s most impactful platform for social and environmental youth-led solutions. On a micro-scale, it’s all about supporting our alumni. On a macro-scale, it’s about having a real and measurable effect on the Global Goals by launching solutions that matter.”
Nadine: “We aim at having more sustainable ways to accept donations from people around the world. I also would like to have more partners and young volunteers join Kafe be Kafak. These people don’t only have to be from Lebanon, but from around the world. I also dream about having a big community of supporters and volunteers from the Lebanese diaspora.”
Tafara: “I hope to create a world in which youth can find reliable job opportunities, allowing them to provide for their loved ones. I have created Fixa with the hope that we will provide 100 million jobs to Africa’s youth, [and create] a world where you don’t need higher education for employment.”
Who are some of the global change-makers from throughout history who have inspired you?
Kristian: “In 2019, I met Muhammad Yunus. I truly admire him for his work to alleviate global poverty by providing micro-credit to the poor. Closer to home, I admire Viggo Kampmann whom I am very vaguely related to and who was Prime Minister of Denmark from 1960 to 1962. He was one of the truly great architects of Denmark’s modern welfare state.”
Nadine: “Malala, of course. Her story is so inspiring and what she is doing to fight for girls’ education in Pakistan is amazing.”
Tafara: “I admire the Danish astronomer and innovator, Tycho Brahe. He questioned existing scientific thought. I channel his spirit in my daily work, forcing myself to look at the reality of the problems I am solving.”
How has technology elevated your work?
Kristian: “We are always using social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to engage with individuals and communities we would not otherwise reach. An example is the application campaign for our upcoming programme in India that reached millions of people and received almost 20,000 applications from around the world.”
Nadine: “Because of technology I was able to start my work, reach people all around the world, amplify my voice and raise the name of my beloved country. We started Kafe be Kafak on Facebook and Instagram because, in the Arab region and Lebanon, these platforms are used more than any other. From there, we created our website and expanded to LinkedIn and Twitter.”
Tafara: “Within my organization, we use simple technology such as SMS and Mobile Money to share job offers and pay workers digitally. Platforms such as Twitter and LinkedIn allow me to broadcast my thoughts on key issues and to stay up to date with current affairs, opportunities, and my wider network.”
What is your advice for fellow young leaders?
Kristian: “Be restless, unreasonable, and ambitious, and seek out help from peers and mentors. One of the biggest challenges for young leaders is a lack of confidence. Seeking out mentors who can support you and validate your ideas is key.”
Nadine: “Never be afraid of taking the first step towards real change. The world needs youth like us to help achieve a better, more equitable, and sustainable future.”
Tafara: “Be fearless. Say what you think and do what you say. Educate yourself about a problem you care about, join a cause, or come up with an idea that you believe is a part of the solution.”