The Youth Lab


"Billionaires are blocking the fire exits.Their wealth is not being deployed in an emergency in a way it needs to be… never before have the responsibilities of wealth been more acutely felt.” - Paul Dickinson, Outrage + Optimism Podcast

Following last week's greenwashing update, this week’s 52INSIGHTS addresses a deep and important sustainability-related challenge - inequality. The cultural conversation on disproportionate wealth distribution and inaction from the uber rich is getting louder and louder, as the connection between global injustices and sustainability efforts grows. Here, we explore the latest research on global inequality, share a youth perspective on the divide, and speak to the role brands can play in helping create a more equitable future.


Extreme wealth and extreme poverty have sharply increased simultaneously for the first time in 25 years. Now, in 2023 there is a feeling that some in power (governing bodies, financial institutions and elites) have prioritised their own gains and have misled the public. Oxfam’s recent report ‘Survival of the Richest’ illustrates a mindset shift among more people around the world that the unfair division of wealth needs to change.

“Inequality is one of the most important issues today and, left unabated, has the potential to exacerbate many of the social cleavages that exist within our society. Addressing it, therefore, should be at the forefront of our policy agendas, and this report presents an important but insufficiently explored way of doing just that: taxing the rich.” Chenai C. Mukumba, Executive Director of Tax Justice Network Africa, Oxfam’s Survival of the Richest Report 2023

The report also reveals that since 2020, the richest 1% have bagged nearly two-thirds of all new wealth over the past two years, nearly twice as much money as the bottom 99% of the world’s population. Naturally, young people are questioning these inequalities, shining a light on them as proof of a ‘failing economic system’. Youth leaders speaking at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2023 expressed a similar sentiment. Action needs to be taken to give young people the agency to impact their future, and facilitate intergenerational collaboration (especially with those vulnerable to these inequalities increasing worldwide):

"We must invest in young people’s livelihoods, rights and opportunities to live dignified lives. The onus must be on companies to address stagnant wages and governments to ensure that the debt burden and the upholding of social systems do not fall on youth and future generations.” Noura Berrouba, Global Shaper, Stockholm speaking at World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.


A piece by Fintan O’Toole for the The Irish Times headlined with “Well-off Irish people do the most climate damage and must pay the price” broke down the impact the richest have on the climate crisis versus the rest of the population. “The more super-rich people there are, the more they consume, and the more they fantasise about being able to insulate themselves from the consequences of that consumption.” This sentiment is echoed in relation to how billionaires are spending their money and how they give back. Oxfam’s report states that by adding a tax of up to five per cent on the world’s super-rich could raise $1.7tn a year, enough to lift 2 billion people out of poverty, and fund a global plan to end hunger.

“Taxing the wealthiest is no longer an option—it’s a must.” José Antonio Ocampo Minister of Finance and Public Credit, Colombia

TikTok creator Solana says “There’s no such thing as an ethical billionaire”. The ethics of people like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg, who are not publicly calling for a change to their taxes, are often discussed. However, a recent open letter called “The Cost Of Extreme Wealth” penned by 205 millionaires and billionaires welcomed increasing their taxes signalling a potential change. Recognising the role they play in society, they express the urgent need for changing how the global economy is currently operating: “The cost of action is much cheaper than the cost of inaction - it’s time to get on with the job. Tax the ultra rich and do it now. It’s simple, common-sense economics. It is an investment in our common good and a better future that we all deserve, and as millionaires we want to make that investment.”


We know that the United Nations Sustainable Development goals address broad-reaching sustainability related issues that cover the need to reduce inequalities. But this can often get lost in climate and environmental conversations and debates. The conversation at COP27 around ‘loss and damage’ touched on the importance of keeping our most vulnerable people centre stage. Youth activists in the fight for climate justice are making increased efforts to highlight the importance of drawing attention to inequality in how we act (as nations, institutions, organisations, brands and individuals) in this decisive decade:

"Climate change is an important issue, I recognize that. It's going to affect everyone and we need to work on it. But the problem is, if we focus on that specific issue and other issues like education, equality and health are forgotten, the rest of the world wouldn't be able to join the fight for climate change." Mohamad Al Jounde, youth climate activist


In response to inequalities manifesting is pop culture’s current obsession with the uber-wealthy and their potential downfall. There is a long list of meme-worthy shows and films, such as ‘The White Lotus’, ‘Succession’, and ‘Triangle of Sadness’, reflecting the excessive and unfairness caused by the wealth divide (all come highly recommended, including members of the THINKHOUSE team). *Spoiler alert* The newest season of Netflix’s hit show ‘You’ centres around the “Eat the Rich Killer”, who wants to take down the aristocratic scum of London to make the world a better place. There’s even “Eat The Rich” - the story of the GameStop saga (more here).


Listening & Leading With Integrity - Brand leaders can support young people by listening and leading with empathy, compassion and self-awareness. “I think listening is the most important thing - listening to, respecting and empowering the younger members of our society, community and workforce. When it comes to future attitudes, behaviours, habits - youth lead the way. They always have. The leaders that listen and respect the next generation are the ones that will remain relevant.” Jane McDaid, Founder, THINKHOUSE.

Read more in our Next Gen Leadership series (Part One and Part Two) highlight what is needed to create a better future for all.

A Brand You Can Trust - Edelman’s 2023 Trust Barometer revealed that businesses are trusted by 62% worldwide, a unique position to be in (whereas governments are considered a source of false information by 46%). This will be an important role in young people’s lives and support their futures. Edelman reports that: “the greatest threat to business as a stabilizing force is the spread of polarization, which happens when a country’s divisions become entrenched, and further frays an already weakened social fabric of societies across the globe.”

How can you build more trust with young people? It will come from transparency and acting with intention. Examining your own supply chains and partners to secure equality and climate justice. For example, Ben & Jerry’s Chocolatey Love A-Fair ice cream adopted Tony’s 5 Sourcing Principles, where companies take responsibility for ensuring a fully traceable cocoa supply chain and paying a higher price to address poverty, the root cause of social injustice for cocoa farmers.


Listen back to The Youth Lab talking about Youth Culture Uncovered on Newstalk Breakfast and FM104.

Today’s Creator Economy - estimated to be worth $104.2 billion annually and growing exponentially year on year. THINKHOUSE’s The Love Network is connecting brands and connectors and getting even better. Reach out to our Client Service team to be kept up to date with the newest trends shaping this economy, what brands need to do to win in this space and THINKHOUSE’s exciting offering.