Photograph of Future Leaders Connect finalists from Morocco and Tunisia 2018
Future Leaders Connect finalists from Morocco and Tunisia 2018. Photo ©

British Council Tunisia, Omar Sfayhi

October 2018

Aspiring young policymakers see the leadership examples of Barack Obama and Nelson Mandela as the kind they most admire. No current world leader was ranked top by respondents in any of the 12 countriesinvolved in a new survey, which was conducted as part of the application process for the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme.  The survey also highlighted young people’s distinct policy priorities.

Leaders Inspiring the Young

In contrast to the rise of a new generation of populist authoritarian leadership models, it is the example set by Obama and Mandela - who focused on international collaboration - that is proving most attractive to the next generation of leaders in countries around the world. Obama and Mandela between them were selected by a quarter of the almost 16,000 young future influencers who applied to the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect network in 2018, with respectively 14% and 11% of their preferences (which were weighted to take give equal prominence to all the countries involved).  These two figures received more than twice as many preferences as any other leaders. Other leaders making up the top five were Justin Trudeau and Angela Merkel (both with 4%) and Mahatma Gandhi (3%).

There was a high degree of consistency in the choices of young leaders around the world, with Nelson Mandela scoring in the top three leaders chosen by applicants in each of the 12 countries involved in the programme - Canada, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tunisia, UK and USA. Barack Obama also scored in the top three in all but one country. No current world leader achieved first place in any country. The only leaders to come top in any of the 12 countries were Obama, Mandela and Malala Yousafzai. Interestingly all three are famous for overcoming and confronting inequality and prejudice. The leaders frequently chosen also share other common characteristics, for example being well known for demonstrating a collaborative leadership model and seeking to further their policy agendas via international collaboration. 

Four British leaders were selected in the top 10 for the different countries surveyed: Her Majesty the Queen, Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, and Winston Churchill

Four British leaders were selected in the top 10 for the different countries surveyed: Her Majesty the Queen, Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, and Winston Churchill all featured in the list. British leaders were selected the most frequently in Kenya and Nigeria. 

Priorities of the Future

The young leaders who applied to the programme were also asked about their global policy priorities. A number of issues of intergenerational equity were identified as most important by young leaders, with ‘access to education’, identified as the top priority by 31%. This was followed by ‘youth opportunities’, chosen by 20% – perhaps reflecting a concern about access to skills, employment and sustainable livelihoods for young people or a desire for more social or political influence. In third place was ’sustainability, climate change and the environment’, chosen by 18%, reflecting a growing concern that today’s lifestyles and policy choices may be storing up immense problems for the next generation of leaders to address.

A number of issues of intergenerational equity were identified as most important by young leaders, with ‘access to education’, identified as the top priority

The British Council established Future Leaders Connect in 2017 to help support and nurture the leaders of tomorrow. Working closely with the Houses of Parliament and the Moller Institute at Churchill College Cambridge, Future Leaders Connect seeks to help build the policy skills and capabilities of emerging young leaders to achieve their visions for global change, whilst also building lifelong connections and friendships with the UK. Fifty of the most promising future leaders, chosen out of the 16,000 who applied to the programme, have come to the UK to participate in an advanced programme of leadership development in Cambridge, a high-level forum in the Houses of Parliament, and a discussion of the future of Human Rights leadership with world leaders from the Elders and three UN Human Rights Commissioners. Watch the event and participate in the online discussion here

John Dubber, Head of Policy and External Relations, British Council

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