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Action! Fearless Youth and the Future of Work


Action! Fearless Youth and the Future of Work

Please welcome my 16-year-old daughter Gemma as my "guest blogger". She accompanied me to the Aspen Institute last week and was...

6 Minutes Read

Please welcome my 16-year-old daughter Gemma as my "guest blogger". She accompanied me to the Aspen Institute last week and was a participant in the adjacent Action Forum Youth Camp.

Take it away Gemma!


Last week, surrounded by other teenagers from places as far away as Ghana and as close as my hometown of San Francisco, I attended the Aspen Institute’s Resnick Aspen Action Forum.

First, Aspen, CO is a really beautiful town. Second, as an incoming junior in high school, the Aspen Institute was a perfect place to reflect on how my fellow students and I can take meaningful action during a time of big change in the world. Third, a big “thanks!” to Cognizant for sponsoring the Forum, and allowing my dad to attend as a lead discussant on the future interplay of humanity and AI (and thanks to mom and dad also, for paying for me to attend the Youth Camp!)

Immersed in broad perspectives spanning diverse backgrounds of knowledge, experience and culture, my fellow students and I pieced together our individual lives to create a broad view of our world, with a common theme; no matter where we come from, there was a space of need yet to be filled. Through listening, dialogue, and debate, bit-by-bit we grew to educate and empower one another to act to fill the void.

Our daily small-group readings broke down everything from non-fiction to speeches and poetry. Then we talked about how they made us feel and which elements and themes connected to our lives. Together, we deconstructed large themes, such as fear, sacrifice, and perfection, and how they applied to our own goals and leadership.

The youth camp group also participated in a few cross-generational conversation-based dialogues with the adult Aspen Fellows about the future of work and the future of education. That was reinforced on the second day of the event, during the panel on the future of work with the entire Aspen Global Leadership Network.

I was lucky enough to sit right in front, by the stage with my dad, to hear the conversation from the “executive perspective” (which featured Cognizant EVP of Strategy & Marketing Malcolm Frank). It brought me so much joy to hear about the endless opportunities that genuinely excite me that will be open to me once I enter the workforce.

Though the “big tent” sessions and group readings-based dialogues were undoubtedly meaningful, it was an especially valuable experience to be surrounded by amazingly successful adults who believed so wholeheartedly in our ideas and were so interested in our opinions.

The most valuable parts of these dialogues though was when there was general disagreement between the youth participants and the adults. One such idea that seemed to be slightly polarizing was the rapidity of innovation. Surprisingly, the adults viewed this with a positive excitement while the youth expressed some apprehension. We explained that though we’ve grown up accustomed to being surrounded by technology, we have the capability to realize that a balance between digital and analog is often more effective.

Additionally, a few of the teenagers also expressed concern that the potential negative uses of technologies were not being considered thoroughly enough before being released, and the fear of future generations associated with this. For example, I brought up the point that the 3-D printer was first invented with purely good intentions, to create useful tools in the classroom, home, or hospital, but now has the capability to provide functional firearms to criminals.

It was clear the adults were surprised -- but impressed – that we, the “tech-obsessed teenagers” were the ones calling for innovation to be slowed, and that they were the ones being enticed and carried away by “bright, shiny objects.”

At the end of the week I attended a panel composed of five teenagers who had already been successful at taking steps to make a difference in their communities. All of them younger than me, I was awed by how accomplished they were and how eloquently and intuitively they answered each of the questions shot at them by the moderator.

Towards the end of the hour, each teen was asked what gave them their “spark.” One of the panelists, a 14-year-old boy, answered that he realized the amount of need in the world not being attended to and the possibility of change, so he pointed to himself and asked, “If no one else is going to do it, why not me?”

This simple idea of action resonated deeply with me as I know it did with many others. When we fail to acknowledge our own power and capability, problems continue to be overlooked by everyone and nothing gets done, and the issue only worsens.

Too often we get caught up in our own lives and pass off issues as someone else's job to solve when in reality we each have the capacity in us to create change. For that reason, I am hopeful. And for that reason, fearless leadership (the theme of the entire Action Forum) will be so incredibly important to solving the world’s future problems. For it is only when we point the finger at ourselves to start that immeasurable change begins, accelerates, and sustains for lasting change in the future.

Gemma Brown will be a high school junior in the San Francisco Bay Area next fall, where she loves STEM subjects, especially math, and in her free time plays lacrosse, soccer and field hockey, and cooks and bakes.

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