Global Shapers building up communities, preparing their shoulders
A friend recently recounted her experience as one of 50 young professionals invited to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos. As she surveyed her illustrious surroundings, she told one senior executive, “I feel as though I am standing on the shoulders of giants.” His response: “For whom are you preparing your shoulders?”
In 2011, Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab began preparing his considerably sturdy shoulders when he launched the Global Shapers, a “network of Hubs developed and led by young people who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to make a contribution to their communities.”
Over just four years, the Global Shapers Community has experienced phenomenal growth, with 452 self-organized hubs recruiting over 5,000 Shapers aged 20-30 in cities from Ahmedabad to Gaza – and yes, from Halifax to Vancouver. The hub I co-lead in Ottawa includes talented young professionals, from the youngest City Councillor in town, Mathieu Fleury, to the Managing Director of the ground-breaking Rideau Hall Foundation as well as the producer of the documentary, Dream, Girl, which shines the spotlight on female entrepreneurs.
Simply put, Shapers do projects. We undertake local needs assessments and, in partnership with relevant stakeholders and partners, take constructive action to enhance our communities. A perfect example is the Geneva hub project, “Reading for Change.” The Shapers there developed a partnership with a local organization, Espace Solidaire Pâquis, which was seeking solutions to allow its clients, new immigrants in Geneva, to learn french. The hub then collected used digital devices, loaded them up with french language learning materials, and delivered them to the partner. A simple, tangible, and deliverable project that responds to local needs.
The impact of the Shapers Community has been staggering, and Canadian hubs have been at the forefront. Indeed, I just returned from SHAPE North America, a gathering of 100 Shapers from across the continent, who paid their own way to Calgary and Banff for a weekend to share best practises for community engagement, as well as to brainstorm solutions to local problems running the gamut from youth unemployment in San Juan to child health and nutrition in Boise.
This is a community that thrives not on lavish conferences, but on hub members’ innovative skill sets and energetic devotion to their home cities. As Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi commented after speaking to 100 North American Shapers last month, “The Global Shapers Community represents a diverse group of young, civic-minded community leaders driven to create positive, monumental change. By thinking globally but acting locally, they are tackling some of the world’s most challenging issues.”
Across the globe, hubs are working to build opportunities for children and teenagers to take ownership of their education, to develop skills for the 21st century labour market, and to gain access to formative volunteer experiences and work placements. Georgetown (Guyana) and Culiacan (Mexico) hubs are rehabilitating libraries and schools in areas with high poverty rates. In Kumasi (Ghana), Shapers hosted the “Let Girls Learn Hackathon” to generate innovative solutions to improving girls’ access to education. Moreover, Shapers are mobilizing their communities to commit to the implementation of the soon-to-be-adopted Sustainable Development Goals, in a campaign – called #SHAPESustainability – that has been applauded by Helen Clark, the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme.
Meanwhile, my fellow Ottawa Shapers have been a key player in Global Dignity Canada, an initiative that empowers youth in over 40 countries through the concept of dignity. We have built partnerships with schools and community groups, including First Nations organizations like Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg, and have secured support from all three major political parties to make Global Dignity Day an inclusive initiative that empowers youth to reach their potential.
Today’s global topography is marked by conflict and instability, and Shapers have not hesitated to make sacrifices in pursuit of justice and a better future. Hanna Hopko was an accomplished activist in her native Ukraine as a leader of the Smoke free Ukraine NGO Coalition. As her peers took to the streets last year to join the Euromaidan, Hopko, a Global Shaper from the Kyiv hub, advocated for the adoption and enforcement of anti-corruption laws. She was elected to parliament in October, where she has continued to champion the vision (and demands) of her peers for responsible government.
It is also important to highlight the role of the Global Shapers Community in extending the reach of the knowledge and ideas generated through the World Economic Forum, which just recently gained status in Switzerland as an “International Institution for Public-Private Cooperation.” This past January, 40 hubs took on the challenge of Shaping Davos – hosting impactful, local conversations on the myriad of issues tackled at the Forum’s elite annual meeting. A participant from each of these local events then appeared by videoconference as a member of a relevant Davos panel discussion alongside luminaries from the public and private sectors. The result was enlightening cross-sectoral and intergenerational exchanges on critical issues like sustainable development and political engagement. For Toronto Hub curator Arjun Gupta, Shaping Davos presented an opportunity to showcase positive example of interfaith cooperation in Canada’s largest city.
Shapers’ passion for their communities is contagious, though it cannot mask or erase systemic obstacles to sustainable development. Creating durable positive change requires sincere collaboration with citizens and decision-makers, and it demands tough compromises between visionary youth and members of the prickly old guard. The Global Shapers Community is no echo chamber of urban idealism. On the contrary, my experience as a Shaper has challenged me to value and rely upon partners from diverse backgrounds and mindsets – united by a desire to build up the communities that nurture us and to prepare our shoulders for the next generation.