WEF Annual Meeting of the New Champions: Reflections from a Global Shaper

Leah Bae WEF AMNC
At the WEF Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2018

Last week I represented the Global Shapers Vancouver Hub at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Tianjin.

Since 2007, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has held the Annual Meeting of the New Champions (AMNC) in China. AMNC is the global summit on innovation, science, and technology, and focuses on promoting entrepreneurship in the global public interest. As the sister conference to the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos, AMNC is referred to as “Summer Davos” and invites over 2000 of the world’s top innovators, technologists, executives, and more. This year I was fortunate to be among the delegation of Global Shapers selected to attend.

The privilege of attending this gathering did not escape me. AMNC was a jam-packed combination of TED-style talks, private sessions, evening receptions, convening meetings, and more. All of the livestreamed talks are publicly available through the WEF AMNC website. This blog post highlights some of my notes and reflections from the conference. Because most of AMNC is held under Chatham House Rule, I have not directly credited everyone below.

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Global Shapers selfie with Jack Ma

Building trust is key, for anything. A key to creating change is the ability to effectively communicate between a community and decision-makers. Building bridges and creating spaces for dialogue and action to occur is important. Better language is necessary to create common understanding. Without a foundation of trust, no stakeholder groups can work together. There is also a large pacing gap between policymakers and industry — the latter moves quickly and the former can’t keep up. This can result in distrust. Potential solutions to trust-building is defined ethics frameworks, agile mindsets, and responsive leadership.

Act fast. Do it with love. The Global Shapers and Technology Pioneers had a private session with Jack Ma. He advised young people to keenly observe and learn from others’ failures. He spoke on the importance of creating technologies that include young people, developing countries, and women. We need to act fast as these problems can’t wait. Agility and people are what make the difference in this day and age. While high IQ and EQ are considered paramount qualities in a leader, the most important quality is actually LQ (L = Love). He left us with a final reminder: “Don’t worry about the future. Let’s make our hearts stronger.”

We cannot regulate technologies of the future unless we also regulate accountability. While attending a session on Governing Dual Use Technologies, it became clear that the world has come too far in the development of exponential technologies to enforce regulations. This concept is not new when it comes to matters that require global cooperation (i.e. climate change), yet it is one we have historically struggled with. It also surfaced that most businesses in AI are not prioritizing equity and inclusion, which leaves a vacuum for regulators.

AI is our chance to bring the “human” back to technology. We live in a fast-paced, hyper-connected, digital-first world and as a result people are becoming less conscientious. With the growing prevalence of sentient robots, what does this mean for the role of human conscientiousness? A special talent that humans have is the uncanny ability to project meaning and sentience out of everything around us. Optimistic futurists predict that sentient robots will not dramatically affect human conscientiousness because we already generate meaning out of everything.

Modern poverty arises from money and relationships. Today, one’s social connections are key to a good quality of life. There is a direct correlation between a lack of (or poor) relationships and poverty. Our current social welfare systems do not address this. It was a reminder to harness technologies to create social change rather than just diagnosing social problems. This idea arose from Hilary Cottam who led a session on Redesigning Social Systems.

The West and the East should learn from each other. I attended a session led by a tai chi master and an exercise scientist and learned that western exercise is more data-driven while tai chi is more emotional. This was interesting to me because it challenged my personal experience of Asian culture, which is to be more reserved and regimented. As someone who has only lived and worked in democratic societies, in general it was both confronting and insightful to see how China operated. Many North American and Chinese values differ from each other (e.g. privacy, civil society, self-expression, etc). China’s global influence is scaling with projects like their Belt and Road Initiative and AI investments (60% of global AI investment is in China). How will values play out in each region’s initiatives?

We need more young people consistently present in structures of power. All throughout AMNC, Global Shapers challenged the status quo. Every time I heard a critical question or constructive statement, it almost always came from a Global Shaper. AMNC 2018 was the first WEF conference I attended and prior to it I was unsure of the extent to which a Shaper could impact these global gatherings. What I realized was how much I take for granted the thought processes, ways of working, and world views of my peers and my generation (this is exacerbated by my personal experience of living in primarily cosmopolitan urban areas with progressive values). This piqued for me when I was invited to attend a private session on an East Asian nation’s strategy for the fourth industrial revolution. Many intelligent minds had gathered in one room, but when I expressed the need for strategic inclusion of youth and civil society, this viewpoint had not been considered by anyone else. Globally, in institutions of power, the inclusion of young people in decision-making is very much not the norm. We are the largest youth demographic our world has seen; 50% of the world’s population is under 27. Young people need to be consistently involved in structures of power as we have fundamentally different insights to offer than those already at the table.

With these reflections in hand, my renewed commitment is to create spaces that build bridges in order to distribute power and motivate civic engagement.

To my fellow Global Shapers and young people: Challenge the status quo. Ask hard questions. Speak your mind. Your voice is needed!

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