Everyone in the room was anxiously and eagerly awaiting his arrival – the man who, over 4 decades ago envisioned a new world economic order full of collaboration and honest dialogue. It was our first day in Tianjin as part of the Global Shapers Community, a day prior to the start of the full sessions of the AMNC 2014 began. A group of 56 energetic and passionate young people who are leading positive changes in cities across the world. Our energy and enthusiasm was about to be matched by a man several decades our senior. The one hour that followed, in which Klaus Schwab – the Founder/Chairman of the World Economic Forum – laid out his view of the world and where it was heading, and the role for young people in it, was a tour de force of ideas and insights. Here are 3 key messages that stuck with me.
There are dizzying transformations taking place in the world today as a result of technology, and Schwab acknowledged the immense opportunities and challenges this presents. Schwab declared, “Technology is changing who we are, it’s changing our very DNA”. Whether it is in business, society, or governance, technology is at the heart of the tectonic shifts in life and economics taking place in communities and countries across the world. Human ability being enhanced by advanced robotics, supply chains and consumer habits being disrupted by digital commerce, skin tissue being created in 3D printers, nanotechnology being able to change the structure of anything, and new media that is both empowering citizens but also increasing vulnerability. But this throws up new challenges for people – the creators and users of technology. Schwab asserted, “It could make us more human, more global, more responsible. Or it could go in a bad direction.” His challenge to us was to ensure that it isn’t the latter. Harnessing the power of technology – the array of opportunities it offers for positive social transformation – will be a key challenge in the future, and Schwab believed that young people could be at the heart of that effort. From among the group of Global Shapers itself, there are plenty of examples of how young people are proving that this is possible.
Secondly, Schwab argued that in the evolving global context, we are increasingly going to need to “balance multiple identities of ourselves”. This resonated particularly well with the group of Global Shapers from city hubs around the world, who collectively spoke over 30 languages, were inherently ‘global citizens’ with an ear to global issues, but strongly rooted in the challenges of their own communities and countries. People are increasingly going to have to balance their identity of their own local community, their national identity, as well as their global identity, all at the same time, but drawing upon each one in different ways and in different situations. He emphasized that sometimes the ‘global’ may need to take prominence over the ‘local’ or ‘national’, like on issues of climate change for instance, which necessarily require a global perspective. Meanwhile for matters of preserving and promoting indigenous culture, for instance, it would require a more ‘national’ or ‘local’ outlook. While technology (and indeed travel, trade and investment) has certainly made the world more globalized, increasingly, there is a tendency to de-globalize. The era of grand global agreements, of the style we saw in the 1940s with Bretton Woods, or later with nuclear disarmament, or CO2 emissions and the Kyoto Protocol, may be over. The WTO Doha round or global trade talks have stalled and there is no clear international agreement on tackling global climate change. It signals that people and politicians could be becoming more and more insular and focussed on the ‘national’ at the expense of the global good. Very few politicians have emerged who are willing to go beyond narrow national interests to truly tackle global issues. Schwab challenged us to be better able to balance the multiple identities of local/community vs. national vs. global, and harness each identity in the most appropriate way.
His third message that stuck with me came the next day at the ‘The New Champions Plenary’ session, which featured all of the Forum’s ‘New Champions’ communities – the Young Global Leaders, the Young Scientists, the Social Entrepreneurs, the Global Growth Companies, the Technology Pioneers, and the Global Shapers. He concluded his remarks with a rallying call that echoed throughout the room – “the world needs a new spirit of collaboration! The world needs new champions!”. He called for “a more socially-inclusive environmentally-sustainable, more human world”. And he is right. A tendency towards more insular politics, more concerns about privacy online, and narrowing of attitudes towards globalization could mean that collaboration becomes even more challenging. But as the AMNC 2014 amply demonstrated, the future is undoubtedly through collaborations, and the Forum’s New Champions communities are well equipped to be the catalysts that can make it happen.
Tackling Schwab’s challenges to the Global Shapers, and the wider New Champions Community, of 1) ensuring that we make technological changes work to create a more human, sustainable, and inclusive world; 2) ensuring that we cleverly maintain a balance of different identities within ourselves – local/community, national, and global; and 3) ensuring that a new spirit of collaboration combats tendencies to become more insular; will be critical determinants of whether we shape a world that we can all be proud of.