Former U.S. president Barack Obama is calling on young people in Toronto to embrace the creative skills that will help them stand out in a rapidly changing world economy.
Obama made the pitch while addressing a crowd of about 6,000 young people from across the GTA who gathered Thursday at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
“Anything that’s replicable, anything that’s repeatable, some machine is going to do better,” the 44th president of the United States told the audience.
Obama said young people need to think about things that have not been done before, and skills that include interacting with other human beings. Creativity, analytical thinking and team building are the types of skills that will continue to be vital in a future full of job automation, he said.
Success requires building a team that is diverse, not just in race but also in viewpoints, skillsets and mindsets, he said, citing the example of how the Toronto Raptors have been successful because team president Masai Ujiri surrounds himself with people who “know how to solve problems.”
“I had to have people who had values that I believed in,” Obama said of his eight years in the White House.
“Having said that, for the young people who are here, you still have to do your math,” he said. “You’re not off the hook. Hit your books, people.”
The gathering was part of the #CreateFate event organized by the Economic Club of Canada under the theme of exploring the future of work and the new economy. It’s one of a four-part series of events the club is putting together in partnership with the Global Institute for Conscious Economics.
Obama’s conversation with Economic Club of Canada president Rhiannon Rosalind focused on future skills, with the goal of inspiring new ways of thinking about society, economy and work.
In a wide-ranging conversation with Rosalind, Obama touched on issues of anxiety and depression that are becoming increasingly prevalent among young people. He said society used to deal with these issues through religion, family or community associations, but now those methods have been replaced by “fragile” interactions on the phone leading people to feel even more isolated.
“The more followers you have does not equal having real friends,” he told the crowd.
Obama also talked about the importance of being authentic as a leader, noting he came into politics at a time when technology was quickly advancing and he had to be more visible and present than many of his predecessors.
“I was basically the first digital president,” he said, adding there were millions of videos and photographs taken and shared during his time in office. That constant presence required him to be more authentic, he said.
On the issue of climate change and how the world is addressing it, Obama said it’s a pity people are still not on the same page, even after all the scientific evidence. He said it’s going to require every sector to take responsibility for “what’s going to be an enormous challenge.”
Governments, businesses and individuals are going to have to play their part in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said, insisting it’s especially important for citizens to put pressure on big institutions and hold them accountable for their pollution habits.
Young people need to emulate Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg who “speaks to a generation that’s going to deal with this mess,” Obama said.
Obama had some praise for Canada, saying Canadians are “reasonable” people and, while there may be some political divisions here, at least it’s a country where “facts still matter.”
“You should preserve that,” he said.
Speakers at Thursday’s event included Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, who talked about gender and equality as well as how innovation and human capacity building need to be part of everyday life for young people.
“One thing for sure is that the world is changing fast, and we have to adapt in how we do work,” she said.
A number of local spoken word and music artists, including Grammy nominee Jessie Reyez, performed at the event.
Back in the 60s, me and my brother had Star, Telly and Globe routes, and delivered fish'n'chips at night!
And went to Canadian Martyrs Catholic School and I worked in the summer holidays as brick layers assistant to extend the school.
Run those bricks up the plank, dego!