Marine Hadengue of Youth Talks On The Case For Optimism About The Next Ten & Twenty Years

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Overall, what gives me the most hope for the coming years is today’s youth. Around the world there are a lot of inspiring and committed young individuals that are ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century head-on. They have a clear-eyed view of the world’s situation, yet this doesn’t hinder their expression of hope and eagerness for a better future. These young people are the change-makers and future leaders of our world. They are the ones who will take over leading communities and nations. Seeing their mindset through the Youth Talks consultation, I can only be optimistic about the future.

Reading the news can be so demoralizing: climate change, war, fires, epidemics, rogue AI, mental health challenges, authoritarianism, extreme partisanship. But humans need hope. In order for us to create a positive future, we need to be able to have hope that there can be a positive future. What is the “Case for Optimism” over the next decades? What can we look forward to and hope for to help us strive for a more positive future?

In this series, we aim to explore and highlight the positive aspects, potential breakthroughs, and reasons for optimism that lie ahead in the coming decade and beyond. We are talking to authors, researchers, entrepreneurs, scientists, futurists, and other experts who can shed light on the exciting advancements, innovations, and opportunities that await us. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Marine Hadengue, Ph.D, research and executive Director of Youth Talks.

Marine is the Executive Director of the Higher Education for Good Foundation (HE4G) as well as a professor at SKEMA Business School, her expertise includes responsible management education, innovation, and social entrepreneurship. An engineer by training, Marine holds a Ph.D. from Polytechnique Montreal, a master’s degree in political science from University of Montreal and completed her postdoctoral studies at Polytechnique Paris. Member of the International Advisory Board of the Peter Drucker Society, she is also the CEO of the Arbour Foundation, a Canadian philanthropic organization specializing in access to higher education.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in the Caribbean islands, in a small coastal village with 3,000 inhabitants alongside my mother, who was a painter, and my younger brother. We lived with very little — no television and no hot water. Most of the time, I walked barefoot. Our days were marked by school, village life, and playing on the beach. I was the only white child in my primary school between the ages of 6 and 10. Children can be harsh, so I learned at a very young age to adapt to various situations. Today, I vaguely remember those challenging times. What remains with me is a certain inner strength, but above all, an ability to communicate and unite, even when the people around the table are very different.

What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.

One of my earliest inspirations in life was my maternal grandfather. I come from a line of engineers, and I have always been fascinated by the explanations he gave me to understand various physical or mechanical phenomena. He would explain that atoms making up matter were like flies: for instance, when you look at water, in gaseous form, the flies fly side by side, in solid form, they huddle together, and in liquid form, they simply hold hands, leaving their arms flexible. It seems that I explained the principle of entropy to him when I was 5 years old. I don’t remember it…!

Quickly, I aspired to become an engineer, just like him. Even when I had doubts, I always thought that this path was probably the one that opened the most doors for my future. However, at the end of my engineering studies, I felt a severe lack of understanding of the world and society. I had technical skills, but I needed knowledge in politics and economics. That’s when I pursued a master’s degree in international economics and politics. Later, I merged these fields with engineering during my international innovation management Ph.D. Throughout this journey, I was guided and inspired by caring mentors who, sometimes inadvertently, steered me.

Today, with hindsight, when I look at where I am, I cannot help but think of my father, who unfortunately passed away from an aggressive cancer when I was 27 years old. Before his illness, he was leading a global-scale project aiming to acknowledge the rights of indigenous peoples to retrieve artifacts from their cultures scattered in Western museums. He had planned to draft a charter at the UN on this matter, and the entire project was supported by a foundation called the Kamawak Foundation. I can’t help but draw parallels with the Youth Talks project I developed over the past two years. Perhaps I am finishing something that he couldn’t finish.

None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?

It would not be fair of me to name just one person. Many people have contributed to my journey in such different ways. My grandparents and parents, my life partner, but also people I’ve encountered along my path. I owe everything I’ve accomplished so far to each and every one of them.

But I do want to mention an engineer who was my superior when I worked at Essilor Canada. Let’s call him Michel. At that time, Michel not only guided me professionally but was also very present when my father passed away. He notably provided me with financial support so that I could stay in France for a few months and accompany my father until the end. I will never be able to thank him enough for this gift.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?

For nearly two years, I have been leading the Higher Education For Good Foundation and have overseen, alongside my team, the implementation of the Youth Talks consultation — to date, the largest youth consultation ever conducted worldwide. This initiative is an important conduit between what young people want and actionable societal change. From October 2022 to May 2023, through a unique questionnaire comprising open-ended questions and utilizing cutting-edge AI technologies, we gathered the real expectations and aspirations of youth worldwide regarding their future. The data and insights we have now enable us to inform and educate organizations and decision-makers so that the decisions they make in the years ahead take into account the opinions, expectations, and needs of young people aged 15–29, which are often insufficiently considered in major decisions, even when these decisions directly concern them.

Through Youth Talks, we aspire to contribute positively to societal change, by calling attention to a more humanistic development approach that fosters personal fulfillment, upholds human dignity, and enhances collective well-being. I am convinced that by putting a spotlight on the rich snapshot we now have a glimpse into regarding the hopes and beliefs of young people and, collectively drawing on these insights, leaders in every part of the world can effectively address some of the most pressing challenges of the century.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Based on my personal experience, three pivotal characteristics of a leader are intuition, the ability to bring people together, as well as persistence and hard work. Let’s delve deeper into the essence of these attributes.

Intuition: Although this ability may seem lacking in rationality to some, I believe that most people mistakenly overlook this quality. The greatest leaders in the world will all tell you that intuition is a necessary ingredient. Intuition is defined as a process or faculty of the mind that guides decision-making or action. In my work, this intuition allows me to understand when elements are not aligned for success. It’s a knowledge or feeling that is challenging to explain in a reasoned or concrete manner. Throughout the Youth Talks project, I rectified many situations before they could harm the project, thanks to this intuition. A single example wouldn’t suffice as there were dozens of intuitions and actions taken during the project. Imagine it as an invisible force that prevents you from straying too far from the right path every day.

The ability to bring people together: Bringing people together around a project or cause is key. No significant initiative has succeeded thanks to a single person. It’s the individuals in plural, capable of working together wholeheartedly, that make a difference. During the Youth Talks project, I succeeded in bringing together researchers and consultants. It’s important to know that these two categories of people almost always scorn each other (I weigh my words!). Researchers believe that consultants do superficial and unsubstantial work. Conversely, consultants often regard researchers as detached from reality and unable to deliver (at least within deadlines). From my perspective, both have significantly different skills that, when combined, allow for miracles. That’s somewhat what we achieved with Youth Talks. We had nearly 15 joint work sessions during the project, gathering researchers and consultants. The first three meetings were almost unbearable due to palpable tensions. Over time, everyone got to know and appreciate each other. Needless to say, I had to work behind the scenes to decipher what the researchers and consultants wanted. It required a tremendous amount of energy on my part, but during the fifth meeting, there were smiles. Today, I dare to believe they all respect each other, recognizing each profession’s individual qualities and benefits to the project.

Persistence and hard work (vital energy!): This third quality, perhaps more conventional, is nonetheless indispensable. I’d like to expand on this idea: persistence shouldn’t be mere stubbornness but rather a capacity to trust a force beyond us. I’m not talking about religious beliefs here but simply having confidence in life, in what should or shouldn’t happen. Specifically, it’s about not taking personally what doesn’t go as planned. It’s giving the best of oneself while humbly accepting when things fail. This conscious detachment gives wings. Of course, consistently giving the best of oneself demands considerable vital energy. I believe this energy is given to us at birth. Some have more than others, and we must learn to accommodate it. If you truly love what you do, work can even replenish energy… it’s a virtuous circle.

Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about the case for optimism. Let’s begin with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. When we refer to being optimistic about the future, what exactly do we mean?

Being optimistic about the future involves maintaining a positive perspective and anticipating positive outcomes across various realms of life, including collective welfare, societal advancement, environmental preservation, and technological progress. It means having faith in our ability to surmount challenges, learn from past experiences, and collaborate to shape a better world for ourselves and the generations to come. In other words, to be optimistic about the future is to keep moving forward, regardless of the current situation, difficulties, or obstacles we face. It’s about believing, being convinced that tomorrow, through our actions, will bring us a little closer to a better future — not necessarily a utopian one, but a societal progress that embraces a humanistic approach to societal issues. It’s about a world where human dignity is ensured for everyone, and collective well-being takes precedence over financial profit.

Why is it important to have an optimistic outlook about the future?

We currently live in a time in history marked by constant anxiety. In the media, in conversations with our loved ones, and on the streets, there’s a sense of the world becoming more polarized. Optimism becomes crucial for each of us. Pessimism leads to inaction, yet, in order to hope for transforming our society and succeed in creating the sustainable future we all aspire to, we must continue moving forward. Maintaining an optimistic outlook encourages resilience, fosters creativity, and aids in problem-solving. Optimism nurtures hope and motivation, both pivotal for personal growth and societal progress. Having an optimistic outlook doesn’t mean that everything will always go smoothly. Undoubtedly, life, projects, and endeavors involve ups and downs. However, maintaining optimism allows for a better approach to difficulties and helps in looking towards the future where we know we will have achieved our goals. When individuals believe in a brighter future, they are more inclined to take action, collaborate with others, and invest in long-term solutions that benefit everyone.

What are some reasons people might feel pessimistic about the future, and how do you suggest we address these concerns?

There are numerous reasons to be pessimistic today, and it seems that we hear about them constantly: economic instability, environmental degradation, growing social inequalities, political unrest, and rapid technological changes. Nevertheless, I am convinced that the best way to address these concerns is to promote an open, frank, and honest dialogue among all stakeholders in our society to understand each other, listen, and collectively begin investing in sustainable solutions. By fostering collaboration among individuals, communities, and nations and concentrating on shared values and objectives, we can confront these challenges and build a more optimistic future. Let’s not forget that education is also crucial in addressing all these concerns. Today’s and future generations will be required to make significant decisions and lead the world through its transformation towards a more sustainable future. Only by educating them properly and providing them with the right tools can we achieve our goal. Tomorrow’s world is today’s education.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share with our readers your “5 Reasons To Be Optimistic About The Next Ten and Twenty Years?” (Please share a story or an example for each.)

Overall, what gives me the most hope for the coming years is today’s youth. Around the world there are a lot of inspiring and committed young individuals that are ready to tackle the challenges of the 21st century head-on. They have a clear-eyed view of the world’s situation, yet this doesn’t hinder their expression of hope and eagerness for a better future. These young people are the change-makers and future leaders of our world. They are the ones who will take over leading communities and nations. Seeing their mindset through the Youth Talks consultation, I can only be optimistic about the future.

The Youth Talks survey has provided us with invaluable insights into the minds of the younger generation. Their responses offer a promising outlook for the future, especially in the areas of education, environment, peace, and lifestyle/consumption and financial well-being. Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the next ten and twenty years:

Education: Youth advocating for values

Young people across the globe are advocating for a shift in educational focus towards values and practical skills. Our research shows that they prioritize learning virtues such as kindness, respect, and open-mindedness, which are essential for creating a more compassionate and understanding society. This mindset could lead to an education system that not only imparts academic knowledge but also fosters personal growth and societal harmony.

Similarly, Young Americans are championing a transformation in education that emphasizes values and practical skills. They prioritize the teaching of virtues such as kindness, respect, and open-mindedness, highlighting the need for an education system that fosters not just academic growth but also personal development and societal cohesion. In fact, 20% of participants expressed the importance of learning these virtues. They also emphasized the need for environmental stewardship to be part of the curriculum, reflecting their commitment to shared values and a sustainable future. This shift in perspective raises important questions about the evolution of the American education system and its ability to align with the changing mindset of youth.

This should serve as a wake-up call for educators. The world’s young people, particularly those in America, believe that education should focus more on values such as “respect”, “empathy” and communal harmony. This suggests a future where education goes beyond traditional academics to cultivate well-rounded individuals equipped to contribute positively to society.

Environment: heightened awareness

Environmental protection has emerged as a major issue for young people, especially in the U.S., where it was identified as a primary concern by 40% of participants. This heightened awareness and concern about environmental issues reflect the ongoing discussions around climate change. In addition to broader environmental concerns, specific topics such as pollution, loss of biodiversity, and environmental disasters were also highlighted, underscoring the depth of their understanding and engagement with these issues. This heightened environmental consciousness among American youth could potentially influence policy changes, inspire innovative solutions, and motivate individual actions aimed at mitigating climate change and preserving our planet’s biodiversity.

Peace: A universal desire

The top wish globally among young people is world peace, with 32% of respondents — on par with 31% of responses in the USA — prioritizing it over other concerns such as the environment. This universal desire for peace bodes well for the future, suggesting that the next generation may be more inclined to seek diplomatic and peaceful resolutions to conflicts, fostering a more harmonious global community.

Lifestyle: Willingness to rethink consumption

Nearly a third of American respondents have expressed a willingness to rethink how they allocate their personal resources, including time, money, and energy. This indicates a growing consciousness about sustainable consumption among young Americans, which I feel very optimistic about.

For example, an estimated 23% are ready to give up certain material possessions, and 17% are willing to sacrifice some of their activities to achieve the future they desire. The shift we are seeing by youth towards more mindful consumption, suggests that the upcoming generation is prepared to make lifestyle changes that prioritize sustainability over excess, better ensuring a brighter future for them overall.

While these proportions might be lower than those observed in Europe, it’s important to note the various cultural nuances at play. The focus on volunteerism and active social engagement in North America, often characterized by the giving of one’s time and financial resources, indicates a broader understanding of wealth that extends beyond material possessions.

This trend towards mindful allocation of resources and sustainable consumption could lead to significant changes in consumer habits. It could foster a society that values quality over quantity, leading to a reduction in waste and overconsumption, promoting a more sustainable and optimistic future.

Financial well-being: Prioritizing economic stability

Financial well-being has emerged as a significant concern for young people, particularly in the U.S., where 23% of respondents prioritized it. This focus on economic stability suggests that the upcoming generation is not only conscious of the importance of financial security but is also likely to make informed decisions about savings, investments, and expenditures.

This could lead to more robust personal financial management, reduced debt levels, and overall economic resilience in the face of potential financial crises. It indicates a shift towards responsible financial behaviors that prioritize long-term financial health over short-term gains, which is a win-win all around.

Furthermore, the emphasis on financial well-being underscores the need for financial literacy to be incorporated into education systems. Ensuring young people are equipped with the knowledge to navigate their financial futures successfully could lead to a society that values financial stability and sustainability.

In conclusion, the attitudes and priorities of today’s youth provide a hopeful outlook for the future. Their emphasis on values-based education, environmental protection, peace, mindful consumption, and financial stability suggests a shift toward a more sustainable, peaceful, and fulfilling future. The findings from our Youth Talks consultation also prove that for American respondents — balance between different areas of life — such as career, relationships, and personal well-being, is of the utmost importance. This holistic approach to life could lead to healthier work-life balance norms, improved mental health, and overall increased life satisfaction in the future.

In what specific areas do you see technology having the most positive impact over the next 10 to 20 years?

I believe that technological progress is often perceived as inherently positive, but this perception is erroneous. Our economic and social systems are not yet optimal, as undeniably proven by the impacts on the environment and all forms of life that inhabit it. We are increasingly moving away from the essentials, and the promise of constant novelty brought by technological innovation is accelerating dominant patterns instead of allowing us to reconnect with humanity and nature. We must adopt a more vigilant and humble approach towards technological developments. This being said, it is undeniable that technology has brought and continues to bring a lot to our species, particularly by helping us better understand and apprehend certain global phenomena. Indeed, technology, and specifically AI, can help break down barriers in communication and foster greater diversity and inclusion. By providing translations and accommodating various modes of expression, AI can ensure that platforms and services are accessible to a global audience, promoting representation and inclusivity.

Data Analysis and Decision-Making: AI’s ability to process large volumes of data will revolutionize decision-making across sectors, leading to more informed and effective decisions.

Representation and Inclusivity: AI can break down communication barriers and foster diversity and inclusion, making platforms and services accessible globally.

Natural Language Processing: Advancements in AI will lead to a better understanding of human language, enhancing communication in various sectors from customer service to mental health support.

Digital Privacy and Security: As cyber threats evolve, AI will play a crucial role in safeguarding digital privacy and security, detecting and preventing cyber-attacks.

Transparency and Trust: AI can promote transparency and accountability in various sectors, building public trust in our institutions.

Technology and AI are already driving positive societal change, as seen in the Youth Talks initiative. Thanks to leading-edge AI, Youth Talks was able to analyze more than one million contributions from youth aged between 15–29, making it possible to naturally bring out the consensus and dissensus between the different youth cohorts around the world, as well as identifying weak signals and latent needs — very valuable information not captured by traditional surveys.

The contributions from individuals and groups were gathered and examined using Natural Language Processing (NLP) and semantic analysis technologies. This process facilitated the categorization of written inputs into semantic units, offering a partial analysis of the data, which was further complemented by expert analysts.

This approach was innovative and unprecedented in its execution. Through Youth Talks, it became evident that technology and AI have the potential to steer positive societal changes in the coming 10 to 20 years, for instance by reshaping our data analysis methods and enhancing communication.

However, caution is crucial in our application of these technologies, as finding an optimal balance is essential. I am convinced that cutting-edge technologies will have a virtuous impact on our society provided they are used responsibly and with the aim of serving the common good.

While technology holds immense potential, it can also present challenges. How can we ensure that the progress we make in technology contributes to a more optimistic future and doesn’t exacerbate societal problems?

While technology can contribute to humanity, it might not always serve as a positive asset for the world and can even be an aggravating factor in various global issues. To ensure that technological progress contributes to a more optimistic future and doesn’t exacerbate societal problems, we must prioritize ethical considerations, inclusivity, and sustainability. This involves investing in technologies that benefit all members of society, promoting digital literacy and access, addressing privacy and security concerns, and encouraging collaboration between governments, businesses, and researchers to develop responsible policies and regulations. By adopting a proactive and holistic approach, we can harness the power of technology to create a brighter and more equitable future for all.

This also means avoiding “playing god.” The systems around us are complex, and the human brain is unfortunately limited in its understanding of these systems. Every time we have attempted to “play god,” we have faced unexpected and often detrimental consequences for our species and those around us. On a smaller scale, the internet and social networks partly illustrate this issue, particularly with the emergence of youth isolation or online harassment. Wind turbines disrupting air currents and thus bird migrations are another example. When we implement large-scale technological solutions to reduce our carbon footprint, what will be impacted, and what negative externalities will be associated with them?

How do you maintain your optimism during challenging times?

As mentioned earlier, I believe in the need to trust life, the universe — call it what you will. There’s a sort of synchronicity in life that guides events toward paths that may initially seem different from our aspirations.

Sometimes apparent failures or situations that seem contrary to our current desires can lead us to opportunities or developments that we would have never envisioned for ourselves. It’s with this mindset that I often approach the circumstances and events in my life, keeping in mind that things happen for a reason, even if that reason isn’t immediately evident. And if they don’t happen, it’s probably for the best.

Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I believe that Youth Talks is an answer to this question! With this project, we have the opportunity to strongly advocate for the voices of young people worldwide and to enable everyone to express their opinions about the future of the world. The mission of Youth Talks is to bring the voices of the world’s youth to the attention of organizations and decision-makers and to influence their actions to better meet the needs and aspirations of young people. We seek a world where young people’s voices are heard and have an impact on shaping a sustainable future!

Only by fostering an open and sincere dialogue among all stakeholders in our society, building bridges between generations, and encouraging youth empowerment, can we lead the collective action necessary for more sustainable futures.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would very much like to have the chance to have breakfast or lunch with Barack Obama. Beyond his political opinions or accomplishments as the President of the United States, I admire his humanity. Throughout his political career and even today, leading his foundation, he embodies values of respect, empathy, and kindness that we need to see exemplified by our leaders at all levels of society. Furthermore, I believe that the work carried out by his foundation is crucial for the future of our society. The limitations of our systems leave many communities around the world on the sidelines of international decision-making, with little recourse to transform the world, starting with their local environments. The Obama Foundation, through its global action plan, aims to bridge this gap and empower as many people around the world to engage and have a positive impact. At Youth Talks, on our scale and specifically with young people, our ambition is similar.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

For anyone interested in learning more about the Youth Talks consultation, all information about the project is gathered on our website :
People can join us on social media to actively participate in the ongoing global conversation initiated by Youth Talks.





Photos Uploaded :

Headshot Photo: Marine Hadengue, Ph.D, Research and Executive Director of Youth Talks

Action Shot Photo: Marine Hadengue, Director of Youth Talks, Mette Morsing Head of PRME and Anoushka Sinha, Youth Talks Ambassador on stage at the PRME Global Forum in June 2023.

Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!

Marine Hadengue of Youth Talks On The Case For Optimism About The Next Ten & Twenty Years was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.