This blog is based on the speech that HRH Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands, Founder of Missing Chapter Foundation, gave at the Global Child Forum at the Royal Palace in Stockholm, earlier this year. The Princess, makes the case that, when businesses engage in intergenerational dialogue and children’s ideas are given serious attention, the result is better, more innovative solutions to sustainability issues.
‘Why listen to children? Why not!
To facilitate communication between decision-makers and children, the Princess founded the Missing Chapter Foundation. As a result, there are now over 100 leading companies in the Netherlands with a children’s board. Municipalities are following their example and the government now has a national Kids Council.Princess Laurentien notes, “I’m often asked why we should listen to children. There’s only one answer to that question, and it is: Why not? Why not, if it is indeed part of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, Article 12? Why not, if they are our future parents, workers and employees? And why not, if what we do today as adults determines the state of the planet decades from now?”
Questioning the paradigm
The Princess questions adult insistence on framing children’s rights as a business case, saying that doing so should make us uncomfortable. “We’re hijacked by the wrong paradigm, by the paradigm of short-term interests versus long-term prosperity for people and the planet.” She sees the 17 SDGs as a way of correcting the current imbalance, which gives more weight to profit than principles, adding, “You, as visionary business leaders, also have the power to redress that balance.” What do children bring to the table when they’re included as equal stakeholders? While children alone don’t solve the issues, “Children are drivers of change, and they light the fire and bring moral ideas back into the boardroom.” By reminding the adult world of the morality and long-term impact of decisions made today, children hold adults accountable to their commitments.
Advocating for humility
What does it take for adults to see children as equal stakeholders? It hinges on our ability as adults to be humbled: “Humbled to let go of thinking we have all the answers and acknowledge the superiority of children when it comes to creativity and imagination. Humbled to dare to really look at the moral questions that make adults uncomfortable.”
Learning to see children as equals forms the basis of respect, and respect can change prevailing attitudes and norms when it comes to what the Princess refers to as “old forms of expectation and misbehavior towards children.”
The Princess challenges others to join what she sees as a global movement in which business acts as an agent for change and does so in equal partnership with children: “The ability of adults, businesses, parents, teachers and politicians to truly hear what children say, be surprised by them and be influenced by them, is a symbol of our own integrity, transparency, openness and ultimately our individual and collective leadership.”
1. Protection versus empowerment – How do we balance children’s vulnerability on the one hand and their unrivaled force for change and sharp insights on the other hand?
2. Participation versus inclusion – Do we decide on policies and then children can react to them? Or do we dare to co-create solutions with children since they can advise us firsthand on solutions and work in practice?
3. Integrity versus superficial child-washing – What does it take for child inclusion to be real, to have true impact and become mainstream rather than marginal?
Princess Laurentien of the Netherlands is a social entrepreneur, author, strategist and dialogue facilitator. She is considered an expert in literacy, intergenerational dialogue and inclusion. In 2004, she founded the Reading & Writing Foundation, which works to prevent and reduce illiteracy. In 2009, she founded Missing Chapter Foundation, which empowers children and leaders to discuss strategic dilemmas as equals. Her dream is that inclusion of children becomes the new normal. Princess Laurentien wrote several (children’s) books and is UNESCO Special Envoy on Literacy for Development.