When 2,000 young people from 190 countries come together to discuss the most pressing social and environmental problems we face today, the buzz and energy are palpable.
This year’s One Young World (OYW) Summit seemed especially relevant against the backdrop of youth climate protests sweeping the world. The 50 RB delegates at the London event returned with ideas that will help direct the future purpose of RB’s business. It’s such an important gathering that senior leaders, including chief executive Laxman Narasimhan and president of Hygiene Home, Rob de Groot, also attended OYW.
During the summit, young leaders connect and forge links that will hopefully inspire them to continue building a better future. Senior business, political and humanitarian figures share their experiences with the delegates. Organisers estimate that since 2010, 20.9 million people have benefitted from initiatives led by OYW ambassadors.
“Being born into a world in turmoil has made this generation one of ‘do-ers’,” says RB’s Tamara El Jurdi, global brand manager of Harpic and a 2019 OYW delegate. “Energy and new perspectives allow us to challenge the accepted ways of doing things.”
“It’s also an investment for the future,” she adds. “The sense of action and making the changes we want to see will continue upwards with us as we progress in our careers.”
Voices for change
At the summit, RB sought to galvanise attendees by letting them hear directly from people who are effecting change on the ground thanks to initiatives linked to RB’s social-impact strategy.
Each day RB focused on a different United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG): for SDG 2, zero hunger, the exhibition stand highlighted the company’s programmes in India and China to end malnutrition and stunting; for SDG 3, good health and wellbeing, it was the company’s work with the Global Fund in South Africa. The Global Fund is seeking to end the epidemics of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis. For SDG 6, clean water and sanitation, the focus was on RB campaigns including “More than a toilet”, in partnership with Water.org, to ensure more people in developing economies have access to a clean safe toilet.
“What made the biggest impact on me was the stories of those on the frontlines, the people living in communities affected by these massive problems and the way they motivate themselves despite hardships and manage to change their world for the better,” says Simon Luyten, Portfolio Manager, Health an RB delegate who works in marketing at the company’s headquarters in Slough, UK. “It was a humbling experience to hear this and it definitely encourages me to do more.”
Speaking on stage at the summit, Laxman Narasimhan said: “We all need to find our voice, we need to speak out. When we see injustice, we must raise our voices.”
He went on to share the stage with young disability activist Oscar Anderson, who inspired RB’s initiative to educate health workers in Vietnam in detecting and treating neonatal jaundice, after RB delegates heard him speak at OYW in 2017.
Another OYW initiative is Lead 2030, the world’s biggest prize fund for young leaders working towards achieving the SDGs. RB sponsors the challenge in two SDG categories – zero hunger and clean water and sanitation – the winners of which receive $50,000 to fund their initiative, along with mentorship from RB.
A 2018 winner, Bonita Sharma, was part of the RB delegation this year as one of its 10 scholars. She was also named among the BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women of 2019. Her work in Nepal to improve women’s education and empowerment included a project to reduce child deaths from malnutrition by supplying new mothers with a bracelet with different coloured beads that remind them what to feed their babies.
Driving future decisions
This year’s delegates have returned inspired by such activists and with greater purpose to pursue RB’s social-impact areas of focus, which are aligned to its business. These are: sexual health and rights; ending malnutrition and stunting; health and hygiene; and the environment. They are also keen to find more active ways to address the company’s levels of diversity and inclusion.
The delegates will now join RB’s Purpose Council, made up of 94 people from 20 countries who are driving change in the business. RB has set itself the goal of developing new and scalable solutions to address the challenges of sustainable development.
“It was amazing to meet passionate people within RB and discover some of the projects that we are already working on,” says Laia Estorach Cavaller, HR Business Partner, an RB delegate at OYW who works in the company’s HR department in Amsterdam. “I believe we have a lot of work to do as an organisation on inspiring more ‘intrapreneurs’ to share what we are already doing and empower all of us to do more.”