One Young World: A global upgrade to diversity

 By James Lynden – Product Manager, Telefónica

There was something changing, something in the air, at One Young World, Johannesburg. Diversity at this gathering of nations is at its most magnificent. And how diversity is presented has taken on a bolder, stronger, more powerful shape. It has upgraded.

Arianna Huffington said in her keynote, “there is such a thing as zeitgeist.” A shift in this zeitgeist that I’ve noticed is this: our focus is now on the issues of people, rather than, the issues of minorities. How so?

One example was in the human rights plenary session where the structural causes of gender inequality were explored; so how the empowerment of women can be improved through the development of men and boys. Unabashed, the councillor Sir Bob Geldof spoke on how instantly available online violent pornography is affecting how boys develop, and in turn affecting women.

Meanwhile, the globe’s invisible scourge, human trafficking, was explained with women, men, girls and boys as victims. And what’s more, councillor Maya Sanbar Jamo highlighted a side-lined taboo – that rape happens to men too. Now, gender is not the issue. Rape is the issue, human trafficking is the issue, and domestic violence is the issue. The issue is explicit, the diversity is implicit.

This was apparent to me most clearly in the HIV/AIDS Special Session. The speakers who took to the stage included a gay white African man, a straight male black African man and woman, one young, one old, and chaired by James Chau, a gay Chinese man. Not all HIV positive, but all united by the cause. Traditionally, HIV is singled out and treated separately as an independent gay issue, or an independent African issue. At One Young World, the focus was on the issue, not the minority.

It is LGBT diversity that I’m particularly conscious of, as it’s my minority, so it makes my ears perk up. I was proud to see openly LBGT people on stage, talking about issues, and their successes in combatting them, that had nothing to do with their sexual orientation. This is about everyone.

I ardently believe in the power of diversity and especially this next evolution of diversity. Let’s call it Diversity 2.0. This upgrade fixes the fault of diversity as groups of minorities, lumped in with the majority, bundled together and respecting each other’s rights. With the majority getting by with being “inclusive” and giving the minority their moment on stage.

The upgraded version uses the diversity of its parts as an enabler of the whole. And deals with the fact that the viruses that affect a part, affect the whole. It is developed with diversity at its core.

In our companies, this means not just setting up networks for minorities, and sorting out policy to prevent discrimination. Diversity 2.0 means changing the organisational culture so that it attracts, employs and retains diverse people, but then, celebrates that diversity openly within the culture, and uses it as an asset for innovation and efficiency.

Meanwhile, for society in general, I am optimistic that an upgrade to Diversity 2.0 is coming soon. That’s because One Young World is probably a signpost indicating to what is coming next in the zeitgeist. 1500 young leader types, early adopters, change makers, going back to their communities and changing hearts and minds. In fact, with delegates from 190 countries, it’s the electric charge of the event’s diversity in itself that makes me so very hopeful of the power to get the upgrade started.