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With great power comes great responsibility

Feeling whimsical, Oli Barrett MBE makes a case for age diversity and why valuing wisdom applies as much to business and leadership as it does life

At least two things happened in 1996.

Firstly, I completed my A-Levels, spending some of the time indoors, climbing the walls, attempting to revise.

More hours were spent outside, building what turned out to be a handful of lifelong friendships.

Speaking of climbing the walls, one other thing happened that summer; Tom Holland was born. For those who haven’t been following the recent entertainment news, Tom is the new Spider Man. Which makes him look rather young, and me feel rather old.

Meeting the Queen’s Young Leaders

Age was on my mind as I travelled to meet the Queen’s Young Leaders, an extraordinary group of 60 young people from across the Commonwealth, flown to London for a week of experiences.

Many of them are in their twenties, and I pondered what to share with them, almost all of whom have already achieved incredible things. In the end, I spoke about the importance of connecting with influential individuals by writing to them, often out of the blue.

Too often people are afraid to do this, perhaps afraid of being ignored or rejected. I asked who the group would like to meet and listened, inspired, as they shared examples from Eric Schmidt to Bill Gates, Malala to Mario Balotelli.

As I wished them well, I predicted that at least one future world leader was among them. Whatever their future, schemes like this, which connect young people internationally, to collaborate and share ideas, are hugely important, and all too rare.

Age is an issue of mind over matter

Mark Twain reckoned that age was simply an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter. In business, and the charity world, some people don’t seem to mind, but it does matter.

I was surprised and disappointed this week to see that the board of a significant charity has a group of trustees whose average age is 64. On top of that, there is no-one in that group in their twenties, thirties or forties, nor anyone (with one exception), in their seventies, eighties or older.

We hear a lot about diversity in the workplace, and rightly so. Often this just extends to ethnic and gender diversity. Let’s not forget the importance of age diversity – the power of several generations sitting around the same boardroom or dinner table.

When we were launching StartUp Britain, Lord Young had become a legendary figure, still full of energy and ideas in his eighties. I find it strange that so few meetings I attend have anyone present who is older than 70. We’re missing out on their ideas, their wisdom and their advice. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

This week, European leaders continue to meet in crisis talks, and Greece is still the word. For a country with a history spanning thousands of years, their leader is remarkably young.

At 40 years old, Alexis Tsipras isn’t the only young world leader. Kim Jong Un, after all, is 32. Admittedly with a slightly different Korea path. Closer to home, the prime ministers of both Italy and Iceland, and the president of Kosovo are all just 40 years old.

Back in 1996, they had only recently passed their 21st birthdays. Today, those celebrations may seem a distant memory, with several big decisions ahead. With great power, comes great responsibility, as Spider Man once said.

Oli Barrett MBE, is a founder of Cospa, the co-sponsorship agency that helps to create and deliver social action projects, such as Tenner, Web Mission, Clean and Cool Mission and Volunteer It Yourself. He also co-founded StartUp Britain and can be found on Twitter.


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