More than 120 Global Shapers from 38 countries met recently in Athens, Greece to address critical issues impacting global society: youth unemployment and empowerment, regional economic growth, and the refugee crisis.

In his opening remarks at the 2016 Shape Europe, an annual event organized by the Global Shapers Europe community, Coca-Cola Central and Eastern Europe President Nikos Koumettis highlighted the unique opportunities Millennials have to make a meaningful difference and tackle these challenges. 

Technology is Moving Economies and Employment

According to Koumettis, rapidly changing technological and digital advancements are rewriting business models and demanding new skills. “For the first time in history, the older generation cannot offer academic or vocational training to the younger generation," he said. "Our generation was studying and getting itself into existing roles. Your generation is redefining roles based on changing needs, driven by technological advancements. New jobs will be created in the next 20 to 30 years that we cannot even imagine. Now that’s exciting!”

Koumettis encouraged the digital-savvy audience to recognize the power of social media in driving change. “The digital playground is yours," he said. "You generate and circulate ideas. You are making your voices heard, and you make global leaders listen. You are the platform of new global debates. Don’t underestimate the power of that.”

'The digital playground is yours. You generate and circulate ideas. You are making your voices heard, and you make global leaders listen. You are the platform of new global debates. Don’t underestimate the power of that.'

Gap Between Unemployment and New Skills

Koumettis highlighted the need to bridge the gap between unemployment and new skills, starting with schools and universities becoming more technology and digital savvy and also through the development of more “Golden Triangle” partnerships, which bring together government, business and civil society to address complex issues.

Which is exactly what Coca-Cola is doing in many countries around the world. In Spain, the company has worked since 2012 to boost youth employment with Project GIRA. The program has helped more than 2,000 young people gain valuable work experience and is now expanding to support female entrepreneurs. In Africa, through the Youth Empowered for Success (YES!) program, disadvantaged youth in six countries receive life and business skills training, mentoring and access to employment opportunities.

In Greece, meanwhile, the ReGeneration program has made its mark as the first holistic trainee program in the country that offers jobs in a country facing 52 percent youth unemployment. Led by the Global Shapers Athens hub and co-funded by Coca-Cola and The Hellenic Initiative, ReGeneration is “the perfect example of how a handful of people with vision, persistence, a passion to make a difference and a collaborative spirit came together to address a key societal issue,” says Koumettis.

ReGeneration offers six-month paid traineeships, mentoring, professional training and development and community service opportunities with NGO partners. More than 85 percent of participants have secured full-time employment through the program, while as many as 6,000 young people each year receive customized developmental feedback, strengthening their ability to get a job. 

Nikos Koumettis with Panagiotis Madamopoulos

Nikos Koumettis with Panagiotis Madamopoulos-Moraris, former Global Shapers Athens hub curator and co-founder of ReGeneration.

Replicating the ReGeneration Story

Koumettis encouraged the Global Shapers Europe community to become actively involved in all parts of Golden Triangle partnerships and to seek ways to replicate the inspiring ReGeneration story for issues that matter in their home countries. He urged them to pursue their ideas with passion and to be persistent.

“Stand your ground," he said. "If you believe you have a killer idea, keep pursuing it and don’t stop at the first 'no' you get. If someone had told me a few years ago that one program could bring together 70 companies, 130 organizations, 80 individuals providing more than 1.2 million euros worth of pro-bono services and offering their help outside their day jobs, I would have not believed them and… neither would you! But it happened with the ReGeneration program. And it happened in a country facing one of the most difficult socio-economic crises in its modern history.”

Koumettis highlighted that the power of pooling together for-profit and not-for-profit partners, individuals who believe they can act as changemakers and different subject matter experts, united by a vision to build a brighter future, can truly make a difference.

'Stand your ground. If you believe you have a killer idea, keep pursuing it and don’t stop at the first 'no' you get.'

The Exciting Journey Ahead

“Sometimes I catch myself feeling jealous of your generation, as well as for the ones to come," Koumettis concluded. "Not because I am blind to the problems and difficulties your generation faces, but because I am in awe of the possibilities; of the exciting developments you will create; of the wonderful things ahead.”

The Coca-Cola Company is a proud founding partner of the Global Shapers Community, a network of hubs developed and led by young people ages 20 to 30 who aim to create scalable solutions that address the world’s most pressing issues.