For Millennials, Pittsburgh provides place to tackle the world's problems at One Young World summit


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Millennials, meet Pittsburgh.

On Thursday, 1,500 people under 30 from around the world will converge on Pittsburgh in a meeting of the minds, a generation maligned colliding with a city misunderstood.

The One Young World summit, the brainchild of two public relations professionals, kicks off Thursday in Pittsburgh, the third international meeting of the group that was previously hosted in London and Zurich, Switzerland.

The ambitious youth -- called delegates or ambassadors -- plan to tackle a range of issues with the hopes that they'll take the knowledge and connections they make back to their home countries, where they'll put them to work with real life projects.

The delegates -- who hail from nearly 200 counties and include a large Pittsburgh contingent -- will get an intimate look at the city with a river boat cruise on the Monongahela, a party on the Roberto Clemente Bridge and events hosted in the best of the city's venues -- Heinz Hall, the Phipps Conservatory and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. And on Saturday, they'll be invited to the homes of Pittsburgh area residents and restaurants for dinner, where they'll have a chance to interact with locals.

"Once again the eyes of the world will be on Pittsburgh," said Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at a news conference Thursday.

The event's roster of prominent names is impressive -- President Bill Clinton will deliver the keynote address Thursday. Other attendees include 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, Sir Bob Geldof, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and singer Joss Stone. All will serve as "counselors," speaking and serving on panels throughout the four-day event.

But the focus will be on the attendees, who include students, writers, activists and employees of the multinational companies sponsoring their trips. Several companies with local ties are sponsoring employees, including UPMC, Bayer and Alcoa.

One Young World was the brainchild of David Jones and Kate Robertson of the public relations firm Havas Global, which has a branch office in Pittsburgh. In an interview, Mr. Jones said it sprouted out of his belief that corporations could be both profitable and a force for good.

In the digital age, where news travels fast, Mr. Jones said the socially responsible corporate model may be the only workable one because scrutiny is swift and intense.

"We understand the need to make money," he said. "We want them to make money in the right way."

And Mr. Jones has great faith in the under-30 crowd, saying they're at the helm of the digital revolution. For the first time in history, he said, young people are driving the most formative movement.

"They're seeing firsthand the problems of the world because they're so connected," he said. "This is the first time in history where the young people understand the most important revolution better than anyone else."

Breaking stereotypes

The narrative of Millennials -- roughly defined as those born after 1980 -- has not always been so glowing. The group is often stereotyped as self-centered, coddled, over-parented and lackadaisical. Academics have fretted that American men in that age group were living an "extended adolescence," a consequence of moving back in with their parents and marrying later.

The Pew Research Center, which has conducted several large studies on Millennials, said their research doesn't necessarily bear that out. What they do say is that young people today in the United States are facing nearly unprecedented challenges as a result of the sagging economy.

They're experiencing historically high levels of unemployment relative to adults, said Kim Parker, associate director of the Pew Social and Demographics Project. It's part of the reason they're moving back in with their parents -- or "boomeranging" -- at higher rates than previous generations. In spite of this, surveys have shown that they're optimistic that they'll reach their career and financial aspirations.

But the attendees at One Young World hope to paint a better portrait of their generation and indeed, many already have. Mr. Jones said the summit is not for "serial conference goers," and that they demand that participants create concrete action.

Though many of the participants are employees of the multinational companies who funded their trip, Mr. Jones said they speak freely at One Young World. His goal, he said, is to change the business world from the inside out and to make philanthropy a centerpiece of any business plan.

Projects that emerged for past summits included a group that passed out bags of environmentally friendly school supplies to children in Haiti and organizations that facilitated interfaith dialogue.

Thato Choma, a 21-year-old student from Johannesburg who attended last year's summit, launched Revolution Eve, a group that will put on workshops for teenaged girls intended to build their confidence and self-esteem and to encourage the do community service. In South Africa, where young people make a disproportionate segment of the population, a fact that she believes will catalyze change in her country.

"One Young World is proving that there are young people who want to take the lead," she said.

'There's a future here'

Josie Badger, a 28-year-old from Ross, is one of four locals who will speak at the convention. A disability advocate and doctoral student at Duquesne University, she will talk about working to empower the disabled to be independent.

Ms. Badger said there may be a little bit of truth in the stereotypes and that some young people -- particularly those who are disabled -- feel that they lack a purpose.

"A lot of young adults, especially those with disabilities, don't see a purpose for themselves in life. They don't see how they can make a change," she said. "I hope that my message of empowerment where I could give hope to individuals worldwide."

Last year's conference in Zurich gave her a more global perspective and boosted her aspiration that she could expand her advocacy from the state -- where she founded a 2,000-member strong network to teach advocacy to young people with disabilities -- to the world.

The conference comes to the city at a time when it, too, is trying to remake itself as a place hospitable for young people.

"Pittsburgh is sometimes is seen that has trouble retaining and attracting young leaders," said Rebecca Lucore, chief of staff for the Bayer MaterialScience NAFTA region, at a press conference this week. "We're bringing 1,500 of them from all over the world here, and we're going to show them that it's a great place, that there's a future here."

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2533. Twitter: @MoriahBee.


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