Generation Z is always good for a surprise.
But this one was a big one.
It involved a big festival in Vienna, the Austrian President and a reaction to mainstream thinking.
In particular, it involved companies and their attitude toward climate change. If they read the writing on the wall, these companies are probably not really amused.
Climate activists turn down big award
Generation Z, the young people born beginning in 1995, is always good for a surprise. However, what happened just now in Vienna at the huge 4Gamechangers-Festival turned out to be more than just a surprise. At the end of the festival, in an impressive ceremony, the President of Austria gave the big “Gamechangers-Award 2019” to a group of rebellious teens, representing “Fridays for Future Austria”: Since several months they bring as part of a global movement every Friday young people on the street against the climate change.
As to the background: The 4Gamechangers-Festival is an impressive event, presenting alternative ideas from digital, global, and agile companies that continuously reinvent themselves as part of industry 4.0 or even 5.0. During three days and for over 15.000 visitors at the festival and many more live over the net, well-known entrepreneurs from around the world, remarkable individuals (such as Patch Adams, Jung Chang, Stewart Copeland), and a few thinkers from academia, explained us during the three days their visions for the future of work and life. Also, top executives from many companies got a chance to present their achievements in the intense game for global dominance.
At the award ceremony, the President of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen, a former professor of economics from the University of Vienna and a member of Green Party, went on stage and received a big applause. In Germany, politicians such as Christian Lindner from the Liberal Party (“climate change is nothing for children and should be left to professionals”) and Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer from the Conservative Party (“these kids must accept punishing work for skipping class”) deal rather strangely with the young climate activists. In contrast to that, Alexander Van der Bellen, does not only openly sympathise with Fridays for Future, but he presented their messages at the UN General Assembly in New York. Therefore, he presented the prize with a warm, friendly and supportive laudation to Fridays for Future Austria, which brings on Fridays ten thousands of young people in Vienna and other cities in Austria on the road, to demonstrate against the incompetence of politicians in dealing with climate change.
At the moment when the young people went on stage, everybody expected it to be like two weeks before in Germany at the Golden-Camera-Award in Berlin, where Greta Thunberg received a similar prize for her work. But it was quite different: First of all, the prize did not go to a single person. It went to the whole organisation. So, while Greta Thunberg accepted the prize in a nice white dress, here in Vienna eleven young teens stood rebelliously on the stage in the same way they present their ideas every Friday and gave two remarkable speeches.
They started with an interesting twist:
“We would like to thank you for giving us the 4Gamechangers-Award. We see this as your admission that the rules of the game must change.”
Then they went after what they saw as the message of the festival:
“But what have they been talking about here the last days? Innovation, profit, getting bigger, limitless growth.”
The next step came logically, but as a real surprise to the thousands of people in the room:
“So, we are giving that prize back to the companies behind it, as a reminder that change has not yet taken place.”
That is noteworthy: The prize has been returned to “the companies”. This can be seen as the beginning of a new direction hitting companies that operate in a climate-critical manner.
During the whole appearance on stage, it was clear, that Fridays for Future did all that by no means as a gesture against Alexander Van der Bellen. They might have acted differently, if someone else would have awarded them the prize. Finally, it really made sense, that the President of Austria took the statue back to the Presidential Office to keep it for the young people until we all see a new way of dealing with the critical climate issue: both in politics and the economy.
For Fridays for Future Austria it was an emotional evening, none of them will forget. And on the next day? Since it was a Friday they went back to the streets of Vienna. Great!
P.S. After that event, it will be hard for anyone from Fridays for Future to accept an award, even if it would be the Nobel Peace Prize. And anticipating that, probably nobody is going to give such kind of prize to the young activists. This would be a significant consequence since the world does not need any prizes: We need changes.
Christian Scholz, April 21, 2019
 Christian Scholz (firstname.lastname@example.org), Professor emeritus for Organizational Behaviour, Human Resource Management and Information Management at the Universität des Saarlandes in Saarbrücken, author of the book Generation Z (Wiley 2014).