Action/2015: The Importance of 15

01/26/2015 04:38 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Over the past few years, we've heard a lot about the new rules that millennials are writing for work and communication, and many of us have admired their idealism, fresh thinking, entrepreneurialism and ability to shake things up.

Now there's a new generation that's equally exciting--Generation Z, as some have taken to calling young people born around or after the turn of the millennium. They don't remember 9/11, yet its aftermath has been their lifelong reality. They never lived without the Internet, and smartphones were invented before they became old enough to care what they were. They were in elementary school when they saw the havoc wreaked by the global recession.

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And yet they have the optimism and energy to make the world a better place. I was reminded of this as my agency, Havas PR, began work to help launch the action/2015 campaign, which is aimed at eliminating poverty and tackling climate change. It got under way recently as thousands of organizations and world leaders welcomed the initiative, including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was joined by a group of 15-year-olds. The age 15 is no coincidence: action/2015, led by civil society, is unfolding at a time when the world is talking about a new set of global development goals, and these kids are the same age as the UN's landmark Millennium Development Goals, which have helped lift millions from poverty.

Fifteen-year-olds are influential in so many ways. Now that we've collectively agreed to see 30 as the beginning of adulthood, 15 is halfway there. Smack in the middle of teenager-dom, 15-year-olds are the people writing the rules for life as a teenager circa 2015. And 2015 is itself a turning-point year: Suddenly it feels as if we're far enough into this new century that we can look backward and forward.

It's too easy to say that we're just looking forward and that children are our future. It's been said before: Children are not the future; they are the present. That's why action/2015, along with other initiatives that advocate for, create and support a new development framework and climate agreement, is gathering a coalition of 15-year-olds around the globe. Their goal--and that of the thousands of organizations participating in action/2015 through an umbrella of subgroups--is no less ambitious than to end poverty by the time they become adults, in 2030.

It's also easy to dismiss that dream as the idealism of young people who haven't been exposed to the realities of working life. Don't. Maher Nasser of the UN Department of Public Information recently said: "This coalition will help push forward sustainable habits. The goal is to protect the planet and provide dignity. It is going to be a slow process but will be able to make an impact."

Social media is, of course, a key element in the coalition. Its tools will engage the public and allow everyone to rethink how the approach is measured. The organizations involved are able to share information through in-person meetings, task groups, PSAs and, significantly, a common Web platform. Who better to navigate these things than the generation who never knew life without them?

Action/2015 isn't just summits and virtual and internal communications. It includes a stirring call to action to the public. The campaign will be driven through mass public mobilizations, creative products, events, films and concerts, all aimed at letting the world know about this critical moment in history. It doesn't want to reinvent policy but amplify existing initiatives, helping to build a bigger, broader movement demanding decisive and ambitious action to tackle the root causes of inequality, poverty and climate change.

Young people will be at the forefront of the campaign, calling on world leaders to secure the future--not just because they have a big personal stake in it, but also because this generation is uniquely poised to inspire the rest of us.