When A Global Company Calls on Young Leaders for Sustainability Ideas

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What can a well-known, global business do—or to whom can they turn—to rethink their sustainability standards? In the case of IYF partner Hilton, they tapped the creative thinking and hands-on experience of the young social entrepreneurs who make up the class of 2018 Laureate Global Fellows.

Representing 16 countries and all younger than 30, the 20 fellows have stepped up—many against incredible odds—to lead efforts for economic empowerment, social inclusion, environmental protection, and more in their communities and countries. On October 9, as part of a weeklong leadership retreat with IYF’s YouthActionNet® team, they brought this experience to the table at Hilton’s Innovation Gallery with senior executives from the company. Focus areas included sustainable materials and local sourcing, as well the use of storytelling and gamification to engage guests in Hilton’s sustainability and social investment mission.

Each day, the fellows work within, outside, and among systems run by governments and corporations that have the power to either hinder or accelerate their progress toward markers such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). For many of these young leaders, the session offered a unique opportunity to openly share their real-life experiences, insights, and ideas with decision-makers.

“The water in the toilet at our hotel here in Virginia is 10 times cleaner than the water people drink in my home village,” said 26-year-old Prince Agbata. He founded Coliba Waste Management Services to lead a public recycling revolution in Ghana, where less than 2 percent of plastics currently are recycled. He encouraged Hilton to consider ways to incorporate wastewater recycling, as well as reusing non-recyclable materials in art installations.

In addition to being pushed to think deeply about the lives and individuals at the root of every sustainability effort, Hilton staff found themselves reenergized by the fellows’ passion and spirit of possibilities.

“Working with the fellows gave us the opportunity to innovate within white space—they challenged us to move beyond the ‘no, that idea won’t work’ mindset,” shared Launika Ayra, Senior Director of Hilton Honors Member Experience. “We usually get to ‘no’ too quickly. They came up with ideas we never would have thought of on our own.”

Andrea Negrón, 27-year-old founder of Salto Peru, channeled her experience marketing the products of more than 300 indigenous micro-entrepreneurs from the highlands of Peru. She advised Hilton team members to consider featuring more locally-sourced flowers and décor. She argued it would lessen environmental impact and support the local economy while delighting guests with an experience unique to their travel destination. “You need to tell the story to communicate the value of locally-sourced goods,” Andrea explains. “People appreciate things more when they understand where they come from.”

The SDGs couldn’t be more ambitious, and many of us feel overwhelmed by their enormity. Yet when companies with the ability to enact change at scale reach out and listen to youth—those who will live the longest with decisions made today—it’s a sign that change is coming, and progress is here now. Inviting youth voices to the conversation is a critical step.

Lisa Jones is Program Manager, YouthActionNet.

2018 laureate global fellows youth-led social change young social entrepreneurs social entrepreneurship hilton sustainability