Social Sustainability Freedom: Gen Zs Enduring Fight

By Edward Kipkalya

Generation Z is currently the largest generation in Africa with 428,514,686 inhabitants making up 31.20%. In Kenya, Gen Z is the most populous with 18,378,493 inhabitants representing 33.42%…source?. Whereas Frantz Fanon stated that “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it,” it is very clear that every generation has a struggle. The Baby boomer and Generation X had physical freedom, Millennials and have mental freedom and accountability; what is Gen Z’s cause?

With technology as a regular tool in their growing hands — Gen Zs have been able to connect more often than any generation before them. As a result, Gen Zs tend to be more open minded, liberal leaning, and actively engaged in advocating for the fair and equal treatment of others. In the words of Coretta Scott King, they understand that freedom is never really won, and it must be earned by every generation.

Top 5 concerns by Gen Zs are cost of living at 29%, climate change at 24%, unemployment at 20%, mental health at 19% and sexual harassment at 17%.

Deloitte Global Gen Z and Millennials survey 2022.

Clearly, Gen Zs are deeply concerned about the state of the world and are actively trying to balance the challenges of their everyday lives with their desire to drive societal change. They are struggling with financial concerns, while trying to invest in environmentally sustainable choices. They feel burned out, but many are taking on second jobs, while pushing for more purposeful—and more flexible—work.

The technology connection makes Gen Zs very aware of the problems the world is facing and motivates many of them to make attempts to solve some of these problems. They understand that these issues will not go away on their own. They’re not afraid to roll up their sleeves, they realize there’s no time to waste, and they are eager to get started. Spurring and underscoring that passion is one crucial element: Gen Z is outraged. They cannot fathom how other generations have let the world get to this point.

On the contrary, Gen Z is the most misunderstood generation, often labelled “strawberries” or “Snowflakes” because of their (supposed) lack of resilience and inability to deal with hardship. Just like every generation, Gen Z has its own unique set of values and priorities. But unlike the millennials before them, they lack the same opportunities to establish their place in the world., Gen Z is a generation of activists, conscious consumers, and future and current “goal-based leaders”. Although Gen Z is sceptical of the word “leader”, which they believe is often bestowed upon undeserving individuals – who then develop a sense of superiority and authority over others – they see true leadership as the willingness to take up a challenge to serve and to help, regardless of fame, recognition, money, or other forms personal gain, but instead sustained emphasis on the bigger picture. It is for this reason that Emerging Leaders Foundation – Africa is finding ways to collaborate with like-minded partners in quest to leverage Gen Zs social-mindedness and love for their communities and help them emerge in positions of power at all levels of the society.

As they enter the workforce, Gen Zs worry about being ill-equipped to navigate a multigenerational environment with fear that the strong difference between “old school” and new age mindsets will make it impossible for them to forge a new path with traceable impact. To tackle this, fostering generational diversity must become a priority for every organization. Bridging the generational divide through mutual understanding and intergenerational collaboration is the only way to fully leverage the drive, resilience and social mindedness of Gen Zs, and the broad range of skills and experience of previous generations.

Additionally, Gen Zs are tired of being resilient, they want support and genuine change. Activism, braveness, and awareness about the current global issues of Gen Zs is a sign that this generation is the one that will push the world towards a sustainable future. Their dissatisfaction with incremental changes that past generations have been made is evident; their demand for more fundamental and focused systematic changes prove that they strive for real change and not just empty promises. After all, they are the ones who will bear the brunt of all today’s global issues and they deserve a bright future.

As I conclude and, in my opinion, the fight for Gen Z is and will continue to be Social Sustainability Freedom.  Their strong commitment to social issues and sustainability means the words “Purpose” and “Impact” will be the main motivators in their choices going forward. Like Frantz Fanon famously said each generation will either betray or fulfil its mission.

As a Kenyan youth, I am optimistic that the youth of Kenya will one day claim its meaningful role as equal partners in the development process. Tunahusika kwa sababu Tunaweza!

The writer is currently the Program Officer in charge of Governance & Civic Engagement at Emerging Leaders Foundation – Africa (www.elfafrica.org). You can connect with him via Twitter: @Edward_Kalya

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