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Rubbing Shoulders with Giants: A Youth Perspective of the WEF Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2019 in Dalian

by | Jul 24, 2019

By Vince Siu
Vice Curator of the Hong Kong hub, World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community;
Founder and CEO, Epiphany & Labs

3 days, 6 communities, 40 Global Shapers, 200 Young Global Leaders.

It was just about too short to fully experience and digest the full array of experiences, lessons and warnings on offer at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2019, hosted this year in Dalian, China.

Alternating between Dalian and Tianjin, AMNC is an annual forum focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation, the summer version of WEF’s Davos gathering every winter. The 2019 edition was titled “Leadership 4.0: Succeeding in a New Era of Globalisation,” with four thematic tracks all around leadership: fostering agile industry leadership, achieving technology leadership, sustaining economic leadership and promoting responsible leadership.

The importance of young voices

I have been a member of the Global Shapers Community since May 2018 and currently have the privilege of serving the Hong Kong hub as its Vice Curator for the 2019-2020 term. The Global Shapers Community is an initiative of the World Economic Forum, a network of over 8,000 young people across 370+ city-based hubs in 160 countries driving dialogue, action and change through local and regional impact projects.

As Global Shapers, we have the opportunity to apply to attend WEF’s annual meetings, and I had the fortune of representing the Hong Kong hub in Dalian this year – a role with added responsibility and spotlight given my city’s recent turn in the political spotlight – alongside a total of 40 Shapers from around the world.

Our AMNC agenda was very much tailored for Shapers – with a welcome dinner, cross-community luncheons, pre- and post-Forum briefings designed to help us navigate a world that might otherwise be just slightly intimidating.After all, our 40-strong delegation was by far the youngest participant group in a gathering of industry and political leaders, and as such acted as the de facto spokespeople for youth the world over.

Not that I didn’t feel intimidated even among the Shaper crowd though: With a roommate from the Giza hub who co-founded Egypt’s largest English language online news website and a food delivery startup that just got accepted into Y Combinator; a Venezuelan entrepreneur leading a Shaper project involving many Latin America hubs addressing the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis; a Rwanda-based filmmaker spearheading the rollout of science curriculum and academic policy across the 54 African countries – I definitely felt that impostor syndrome kicking in more strongly than ever.


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That was instantly washed away when the Forum proper started. With access to the WEF database through its event app, we were free to network with other participants across many communities throughout the three days. Besides the industry and political leaders we’d just walk past on our way to a breakout session, we also had the opportunity to meet the Schwab Social Entrepreneurs, WEF Young Scientists and WEF Technology Pioneers, as well as more than 200 Young Global Leaders, who were also gathering for their 16thAnnual Summit.

Treated with respect and as equals by leaders in their respective fields, I was humbled by how I was received. These were paleontologists at the Smithsonian Institute; founders of social impact schools and programs in Europe; climate change experts from Southeast Asia – and they were all interested in exchanging ideas and learning from a founder of a small, brand-new corporate and education innovation consultancy! What is this world coming to?!

But I should’ve known: If you’re selected by WEF to attend an Annual Meeting, you deserve to be there. I was among equals.

Leadership should be sustainable and inclusive

With the Hong Kong hub of the Global Shapers Community, I’m the co-founder of our sustainability project SUSTAINHK, which curates conversations around corporate-level sustainability. It was encouraging to see the amount of attention that climate science, clean energy and sustainable production commanded at the Forum, and I also signed up for talks on electric vehicles, sustainable minerals and sourcing, and biotech and renewable energy.

I found myself in an elevator with Mathieu Flamini, a professional footballer who used to run the midfield for Arsenal and A.C. Milan, and I attended a talk of his – moderated by a fellow Shaper from Shanghai – where he spoke of his entrepreneurial adventure in the biotech industry and his ambitions to set up more robust support systems for fellow footballers looking to lend their voice to critical issues. As a diehard football fan and a long-distance admirer of activist athletes in the U.S., I was heartened to witness his sense of purpose in person. It’s not every day that you have a Young Global Leader who can reach millions of fans with a single social media post. The world needs more Mathieu Flamini’s.


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Inclusion was also a key theme. There were talks on mental health, philanthropy and digital identities, and two sessions in particular stuck with me. Two passionate founders of autonomous vehicle start-ups shared not just their vision for AVs but how ethics should play a part in AV design from its beginnings – after all, “behind every computer is a human.”The Minister of Community Development of the U.A.E. shared insights with a fellow Shaper from Ottawa, Canada on the work being done on intellectual disabilities and community inclusion in the Middle East and around the world. In a rapidly changing world, no one should be left behind.

Balancing between top-down governance and bottom-up advocacy

From even the design of the event, with different communities within and around WEF represented in different settings, and a delegation of driven and passionate young people, we saw the importance of diversity in opinion, background and experience. An inclusive and sustainable future is one that prizes and thrives on diversity and dialogue. Youth representation presents a ready-made approach.

Greta Thunberg took to the stage at Davos earlier this year, and in Dalian we heard from not just Shapers in their respective areas of expertise but also from Isabel Wijsen, the 16-year-old founder of Bye Bye Plastic Bags, a campaign to get plastic bags banned in Bali, Indonesia. Providing exposure and access for young leaders to decision-makers and the who’s who of the business and political worlds needs to be balanced out by those leaders taking an active interest in young voices.

Forward-thinking and responsible corporations have pushed the boundaries of innovation and research and arrived at new solutions that are as exciting as they are sustainable. Yet the burden must not be placed singularly on their shoulders, and certainly their peers must also be made responsible to play by new and changing rules for the betterment of humanity and society. It is here that governments and policymakers have a role to play – not just to encourage more research and development, but to adopt new standards as they are being developed.

The final U.N. Sustainable Development Goal (#17) is Partnerships for the Goals. Throughout the Forum, we saw the importance of cross-sector partnerships and witnessed examples of successful collaborations en route to a more sustainable and brighter future. Amid the global uncertainty and turmoil in recent years, what we need more of is partnerships and collaboration across different stakeholders in society, to ensure equal representation so no one is left behind.

The Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2019 in Dalian, China provided a fine example. We now need it to scale.

The above views are of the author only, and do not represent the views of the Hong Kong hub of the Global Shapers Community, the Global Shapers Community or the World Economic Forum at large.

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