How To Bridge The Digital Divide, One Person At A Time

Six short months ago I didn’t understand the first thing about the Gen Z mindset. Sure, I had Instagram, Facebook and Linked-in accounts, but I didn’t use them. Yes, I knew some people born since 1999, including my niece and nephew, but they were a lot better at inhabiting my world than I was at entering theirs. And then something happened. I haphazardly entered into a mentoring conversation with a 19-year-old digital native named Jeremiah Emmanuel. It is an ongoing dialogue that is changing my perception of the world. And it could change yours because the learning we’ve shared is not unique to us. Our experience is replicable. You too can bridge the digital divide.

I am 54 years old. I was born in Paris, to Jewish American parents, an artist, and a writer. I grew up in Cambridge, England, and went to private school. I am gay and live with my partner.

Jeremiah is now 20 years old. He was born in Brixton in London and raised by a single mother. He went to a state school, where drugs and knife crime were rife. He is straight and is not in a relationship.

We were introduced to each other by a mutual friend who is a member of the Conduit Club, a new community of social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, and changemakers from across the world. Jeremiah is a founder member.

We met because I was interested in getting Jeremiah’s take on how best to support talented young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. I’d be speaking with other people, but Jeremiah was the first person I spoke to who himself fit into this category. As well as being hugely talented, young and from a disadvantaged background he is the founder of EMNL, a consultancy firm that advises brands like Rolls Royce, Nike & Virgin on how to engage with Gen Z, allowing young people to generate ideas, or solve problems within marketing, consumer output, and campaigns.

From the very first moment I met him, I got a sense that Jeremiah possesses two qualities that many of my Gen X and baby boomer clients struggle with. He is clear about his life purpose: to live with integrity, serving as a role model and support, enabling others to realize their potential and achieve their dreams. And he has grace. What’s that? I hear you ask. So much rarer than elegance, grace is a way of living in harmony with reality so that more of one’s attention is available. That’s what he has.

At our meeting, I’d learned, among other things, that Jeremiah had worked within his local community as a youngster, campaigning around several issues that affected young people with the Nelson Mandela School Foundation. I’d discovered that in 2011 he was elected into the UK Youth Parliament, becoming an MYP, and later a young mayor within London. 

I found out that Jeremiah, who missed out on some schooling because of a brittle bone condition, serves as a youth ambassador for the Big Change Charitable Trust, an educational charity set up by Holly and Sam Branson to campaign for change within the education system.

As a consultant, it transpired, he has advised The Gates Foundation and Richard Branson and that he is the youngest person from an ethnic minority to be named by the Queen in the New Year’s Honors list. 

So, you can see why, as soon as I got back to my desk, I wrote to Jeremiah asking him if he would mentor me. I felt I had so much to learn from him. Before I could hit send, there was a note for me from him, asking the same thing. So, we struck a deal. We would meet, monthly to mentor one another.

Here’s what Jeremiah says:

“Mentoring with Remy has helped me to see my true value. In the past, people have tried to take advantage of my age and use it against me. They assume I’m too young or inexperienced to take on a job and merit the appropriate fee – even though I feel I’ve already lived five lifetimes.

Remy has shown me the importance of having 100% belief in myself and I wanted others to benefit from the Mirror Mentor dynamic that has worked so well for us.”

As for me, Jeremiah helps me in so many ways–getting to know him has deepened my understanding of diversity. As a gay Jewish man, I grew up with a sense of difference. But that is not the same as the difference experienced by a straight young black man. Jeremiah’s insights as an influencer have been hugely beneficial, helping me to embrace youth platforms.

Jeremiah has given me some great advice for the tone of my social media and video channels–and encourages me to give up perfection, not rehearse, and include the outtakes. It went against everything I’ve learned after 30 years on television, but after we tried it, I realized this fresh approach was the missing link in how I could connect with a new audience.

We got so much out of our exchange that we’re inviting others to take part in what we call Mirror Mentoring. And we’ve already attracted leading figures from the worlds of entertainment, arts and culture including rapper Tinie Tempah, commissioning editor for entertainment at ITV Joe Mace, director of creative development at Harper Collins Lisa Sharkey, chairman of Sotheby’s International Robin Woodhead, CEO for Endemol Shine Group Sophie Turner Laing, CEO and artistic director of Sadler’s Wells Alistair Spalding.

Jeremiah has also drawn upon his friends and a network of 30,000 Gen-Zers from his consultancy EMNL’s database, to unearth the next generation of aspiring entrepreneurs including: music publicist, and freelance journalist Nicola Coaker; Motives COO Treasure Oyelade; photographer and video director, Dani Carroll; Firm London cofounder Daryl Parke; activist and ambassador of I Will, Jonelle Awomoyi; founder of Millennials Club and CJ Events, Chris Jelev.

The parings will keep open correspondence and meet face-to-face at least four times a year to help expand each other’s horizons, make new connections and build a shared understanding and experience of the others world and practices.

Our advice to you, whether you’re Gen X or Gen Z, if you want to bridge the digital divide, find someone whose age, background and experience are completely different to yours and invite them to be your mentor.