For the Ages

Here’s to the one thing that unites all generations of event attendees — feeling like we belong.

Author: Michelle Russell       

Children and Youth Pavilion sign at COP27

At COP27 in November, youth had an official platform for the first time ever at the United Nations event — the Children and Youth Pavilion. (Courtesy of UN Climate Change)

Michelle Russell headshot

Michelle Russell

To quote Native American leader Chief Seattle: “We don’t inherit the Earth, we borrow it from our children.” Younger generations will should the consequences of climate change and bear the brunt of decisions that were or were not made during COP27, the United Nations Climate Change Conference that took place in Egypt in November.

So, if there’s a group that deserves to have a seat at the table at COP27, it’s young people. And for the first time ever, this year they did have an official platform. At the Children and Youth Pavilion, organized by youth-led organizations that foster youth engagement and inclusion, young activists convened a formal meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres and showcased youth-led initiatives combatting the climate crisis from around the globe.

Perhaps it was Greta Thunberg who awakened people to the idea that no one generation can possibly solve this crisis alone.

A recent Wall Street Journal story reinforced the value of intergenerational interaction, not in terms of changing the course of history but in enriching everyday life. In a new residential arrangement at Pennsylvania’s Neumann University, 40 undergraduate men and women are sharing a convent with 40 Catholic nuns who belong to the Order of St. Francis of Philadelphia (whose median age is 82). The initiative solves a housing crunch — campuses around the country struggle to find adequate and affordable student housing. On the edge of the Neumann campus, the convent has room to spare. When it was built around 50 years ago, there were approximately 1,600 sisters in the Order — now there are about 350.

Beyond being a practical solution, “the unorthodox housing arrangement provides an opportunity for valuable intergenerational exchange,” according to the article. While they have different entrances to get to their quarters and don’t share a dining hall for meals, the sisters and students “are now getting in the habit of meeting up for nature walks, trading travel tips, planning knitting lessons, extending occasional dinner invitations, and marveling at the lives one another leads.”

Traditional wisdom would question whether young people have a place at a conference dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing crisis, or whether university students would so easily come to call the place where senior nuns also live home. But who’s to say who belongs where?

Belonging is a topic we explore from a different angle in our December issue’s cover and CMP Series story — how to design events so participants feel like they belong there. Belonging is a deep human need that transcends cultures and generations. And in keeping with this column’s intergenerational theme, I can’t help but add something Convening Leaders keynoter and organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently said: “Human values are part of our psyche, and they don’t seem to just radically shift from one generation to the next.”

Making all feel welcome is one value we share as an industry.

Generational Divide

Studies have found that how willing you may be to share your salary with others is largely determined by your generation, with boomers far more reluctant than Gen Y or Z. But new laws in different parts of the U.S. requiring that companies include salary ranges in their job listings may rip the veil of secrecy around compensation wide open. We look into these laws and their potential ramifications in the workplace in our Plenary lead story, “Will New Salary Transparency Laws Help Solve Pay Inequity.” It’s also one of six topics we’ll explore on the Convene Stage during Convening Leaders in January in Columbus, Ohio — a new initiative that puts our content in a live event format.

Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.

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