Government policy has had a huge impact on our lives this year from who we socialise with, to where we shop and when we leave the house. And this has been particularly true for young people, affected by interruption to schooling, impact on jobs and restrictions on movement, which has awaken them to the impact of global policies on their lives.
A Young Adviser committed to change
Tolu Oni (MSc Economics & Strategy for Business 2017) recently appointed to the newly formed The Young Adviser Programme at Chatham House , Royal Institute of International Affairs, believes this can lead to a time of change and greater engagement with young people. “This is our chance to capitalise on getting them involved in the development of policies, government and societies that affect them.”
Discussing his appointment Tolu reflects on the role that Chatham House has already played in the development of ideas, policy recommendations and resources for business and society:
“The Young Advisers is an opportunity for me to contribute, from my perspective as a front line worker, to a mission of helping government and societies build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world. It will also give me the opportunity to collaborate with other advisers to better understand the challenges faced in other parts of the world, as well as the solutions that are being implemented.”
His passion for working with young people and helping to build a better world is something Tolu has always been committed to. “I'm 25 years old so I think it is easy for me to be passionate about greater opportunities for my generation. Also, youthfulness brings a certain level of enthusiasm with it so I'm leveraging that. But looking more inwardly, I have always been driven to get involved in the change I want to see. The late Kofi Annan once said 'The future belongs to you, but it can only belong to you if you participate and take charge'.
The Young Advisers is an opportunity for me to contribute, from my perspective as a front line worker, to a mission of helping government and societies build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.
“Centric to this, I believe, is the collaboration of both youthful and experienced (older) minds. However, in many regions, organisations and situations, the youth part of that equation is missing. This makes it important to push for more involvement of young people in decision-making processes. I champion this at the Tony Elumelu Foundation, where I mentor youth entrepreneurs and contribute to policy discussions.”
Engaging young people on key issues
During his two-year term as a Young Advisor Tolu hopes to help lay solid foundations for future cohorts, by setting a tone which is inclusive, effective, respectful and engages with the rest of the organisation.
“The programme is focused on increasing the diversity of contributions in global matters by employing the right structures, technology, collaborations and language, when engaging with a group of people who have not necessarily been part of the conversation before.
“Over the next two years, I would like to see the Institute forge the right partnerships with external organisations and individuals that enable it to bridge the gap between the next generation. I would also like to see a significant increase in contributions to global discussions from a diverse range of young people who, equipped by the Institute, have the resources and platform to have their voices heard.”
Impact of the pandemic on young people
Tolu believes the pandemic has thrown into light many significant issues for young people around education, employment, mental health and rights. The sudden change from a formal learning structure, that included physical in-class experiences, to an informal structure is affecting how they collaborate with their classmates. They are missing out on experiencing vital 'out of classroom' learnings that would come from situations like in-person social gatherings. One concerning trend is that there is a higher transition time between when young people finish school to when they take up employment roles. And for those that do take up roles, Tolu highlights that they are at a higher risk of being laid off - according to the International Labour Organisation, 1 in 6 young people have had to stop working since the start of the crisis.
“All of these developments, plus the social isolation imposed through government lockdown measures, is sure to have an impact on the mental health of young people, who are still developing biologically and shaping their character.”
And the current pandemic has also impacted young people's right of involvement: “The rights of young people and how certain changes, like a restriction of movement, has affected their involvement in public affairs and activism. During normal times, the participation of young people in the political eco-system was already challenging, owing to legal, institutional and other barriers. At a time like this, it is even more difficult as young people are having to revert to the internet to make their voices heard. However, this can only happen in part as a lack of universal internet access means that many young people are still unable to go online.”
Tolu is optimistic that there will be opportunities post-COVID: “We have been given an opportunity that not many other generations got: a responsibility to repeal traditional structures and create a blueprint for how the world will operate moving forward. We are being 'forced' to develop ideas and skills and employ technology in driving the changes we hope to see.”
Making a difference
In his professional life Tolu is experienced in the analysis and impact of data as Founder of The Thread Group, based in Nigeria. He works with governments and businesses to make effective and informed decisions, to innovate and grow.
“We are changing the way businesses typically do business (guesswork and reliance on experience) and governments engage with their citizens (patriarchal approach). We present a more effective way of doing business and governance, and reduce the cost and negative externalities in the long run.”
Tolu believes his time at Imperial played an extremely important role in his understanding of the importance of data and macros/mirco economics, as well as new emerging technologies and the future of thriving new economies.
“The Business School brought students and alumni together, and my time at the Imperial Enterprise Lab provided a platform for the kind of collaboration I spoke about earlier: young and old students from across the College supporting each other, developing comprehensive ideas that go on to add value and create impact.
“This is what I hope to achieve through my work with Chatham House, bringing people and brilliant minds together in a quest to change the world.”