Thousands of aspiring policymakers from around the world have been surveyed to discover what they believe are the main challenges for the future. These 18 to 35 year-olds applied for the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect initiative, which aims to identify and connect the leaders of tomorrow – those who will be at the forefront of future global change. The British Council received almost 11,000 applications from the 11 countries invited to take part in the first year of Future Leaders Connect. From these, the top 50 were selected to come to the UK for an immersive programme of advanced policy and leadership training and experience. But the information gathered from all the applicants offers a rare opportunity to learn about this generation of leaders: their ideas, aspirations and concerns for the future. There was a striking degree of agreement between the applicants from all over the world: Education and sustainability featured as their top two priorities for global change. 

Applicants to Future Leaders Connect were challenged with the task of setting out a compelling vision for the future - one that identifies the most pressing global challenge and sets out their proposed solution. Their responses spanned 29 themes, but particularly revealing was the similarity in global priorities of emerging leaders across all of the participating countries. ‘Education’ and ‘sustainability, climate change and the environment’ were both among the top five priorities across all countries. 

Education was the most prominent global vision, featuring in 18 per cent of applications and falling in the top three themes for ten of the 11 countries. Of these responses, many referred to the need for better education provision for children and young people, but a notable proportion (12 per cent of all visions relating to education) specifically referred to education for girls and women – particularly in responses from Pakistan and Nigeria. Literacy accounted for another eight per cent and was particularly cited by participants in Nigeria, Kenya, Pakistan and Morocco. The other major sub-category identified in responses was education around entrepreneurship and skills.

‘Sustainability, climate change and the environment’ was the second most frequently chosen issue. It featured in 16 per cent of all the participants’ visions for change, encompassing the threat of climate change and ideas around sustainable and renewable energy solutions. Given the huge impacts that climate change is likely have on future societies and their leaders this should come as no surprise. 

‘Addressing poverty and inequality’, and ‘promoting gender equality’ were both top ten issues in ten of 11 countries. ‘Economic development’ and ‘tolerance and diversity’ were in the top ten themes for nine countries, whilst ‘conflict resolution and peace’, and ‘transnational co-operation’ featured in eight countries as a top ten priority. 

The challenges facing tomorrow’s policymakers will be increasingly transnational in scope. The solutions will also have to be transnational. The good news is that, at least amongst those aspiring to be the policymakers of tomorrow, there is already agreement about which of those challenges are the major priority. It is to be hoped that this agreement, along with the thoughtfulness and enthusiasm of the next generation of potential leaders, holds the hope that such solutions will be possible.