Fill in the Blank
Fill in the Blank avatar

The Young Leaders Forum was about “social _________.”
a. inclusion
b. cohesion
c. innovation
d. collaboration
e. regeneration
f. entrepreneurship
g. responsibility
h. all of the above

In my first post I shared anxiety about being naive of policies and economics. However, after three days with talented and gracious participants, my anxiousness has subsided. It wasn’t due to receiving a crash course in economic theory, or a primer on Latin American policy (though some of the sessions came close). Rather, it was a realization that we had shared values expressed through a diverse set of skills, interests and experiences. This is a testament to the selection process of the folks at BMW Stiftung. They know how to throw a great party!*

During the forum I started jotting themes in no particular order:
- fair working conditions
- access to education
- access to healthcare
- eco-reciprocal development aka, sustainability
- empowerment and equality for women
- collaboration between sectors
- access to capital
- art and design as development
- clean water and food sources
- access to mobility
- inclusive business models
- entrepreneurship

I also began noting principles:
- access, not restrictions
- sufficiency, not poverty
- quality, not inferiority or cheapness
- options, not limits
- shared, not autonomous

To my more conservative friends, these might look like a call to socialism. But I attribute that to political rhetoric of our current events. Seeing inequities first-hand, and understanding the connectivity of the global marketplace, will broaden your perspective. In that spirit I’ve highlighted these concepts so that we can begin applying them to affect the aforementioned global themes. You might try them as filters or as springboards for new ideas.

On a final note, I’d like to emphasize the collaborative spirt of the Forum. I heard someone say, “this is not a battle between public sector and civil society,” and I might add to this “…nor commerce”.  The cooperation of these three bodies stands out to me as a key point of view. In the U.S. we are in a polarized gridlock because of a lack of partnership between these groups. The sentiment of the Forum makes the battle back home seem even more vulgar, but it also gives me hope and optimism as I reflect upon the inspiring work being done around the globe to improve this condition.

Thank you BMW Stiftung for the opportunity to share my thoughts during the Forum. It was a pleasure.

*BMW throws a great party too!

Michael’s Walk
Michael’s Walk avatar

My fellows and I spent today with Chi Nguyen (also a YL) who is on the advisory board for Jane’s Walk. Jane’s Walk is a non-profit organization that honors the late urbanist, Jane Jacobs, and her legacy of considering the human experience in urban planning. Now in its third year after going global, Jane’s Walk helps organize free walking tours guided by passionate locals. The big idea is to connect people with their neighbors, neighborhoods and interests with the hope that this awareness brings transformation to the participants and the community.

As Jane’s Walk is more broadly adopted challenges have emerged: should the program be the same everywhere? How can technology be better utilized to further the mission? How can new revenue streams sustain the organization? We spent the better part of the day discussing the questions from a global perspective and then committed to follow-on work relevant to each participants expertise.

In the spirit of Jane’s Walk, and “on the street” observation, here are a few photos from neighborhoods I visited this week on “Michael’s Walk”. Can you identity them?

Making Sense
Making Sense avatar

Let me introduce to you some interesting folks from the forum. They are exploring sensory experience albeit from very different roots. It’s a subject that is tied to evolutionary psychology and embodied cognition: how do our bodies help us understand things?

Alejandra Lillo and Bryan Flaig are architects and newlyweds working as Undisclosable. Recently they produced an experiential pavilion through the Creators Project, a joint venture of Intel and Vice.

The cathedral-like tent structure features music stems from”Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space”, a looping, harmonious, epic song of longing by 90′s psych-rockers Spirtualized. Light and sound stream from windows high above to create a highly emotional, or some even say spiritual, experience. You can see a video clip from Coachella here: Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space

Christian Köhler is the director of Markenverband (the German Brand Association) and also has connections to SAM Research. SAM (Sensory & Marketing), based in Zurich, develops sensory signatures for auto, pharma and beauty brands by using consumer insights to create distinct smells and textures to build desirable experiences.

Embracing holistic human experiences like these stand out as a necessity to truly engage people. In our discussions about social cohesion we often discuss the inequities of wealth and choice. Discussing inequities of emotional fulfillment and taking time to consider why some solutions resonate more genuinely than others may make this goal even more attainable.

Pushing Buttons
Pushing Buttons avatar

Today is dedicated to spending time with local companies committed to social cohesion and sustainability. I was interested in Greca, an art collective that designs objects from discarded materials, because of my start-up work in sustainable design. My previous company tried conceptually similar programs and I wondered how the concepts translated here. So, along with about 15 “Young Leaders” I hopped on a bus for the 30 minute drive to Greca.

Greca began as a hobby and turned into a full-fledged production two years ago. A couple of the members noticed how much waste was produced from a nearby button factory: large sacks of discarded buttons, left-over resin and the remaining stamped plastic sheets. Their first designs were simple necklaces made from the buttons and strings, but over time they began using the resin and creating sculptures filled with the buttons. This became a product line that is now being sold to design shops and museums overseas, including the SFMOMA. Between the five members and occasional volunteers, they produce an average of 300 pieces per month.

Greca have created a collaborative workspace with the same creative ethos, using discarded materials to define spaces. They have a practical outlook, hoping to make the public aware of sustainable living through their work. They share their vision with students as well as participate in community gatherings like Green Drinks and Pecha Kucha. Additionally, they have an affiliated free, bimonthly magazine called EcoMania with a total print and online readership of around 25,000 people.

Their humble, creative energy was inspiring— a reminder that there are simple ways to engage in responsible consumption, many times in our own back yard, with our natural talent.


Car Talk
Car Talk avatar

Something I really appreciate about the Young Leaders Forum is the flexibility to tailor the event to my own interests. Today amongst presentations of Latin American context I was also able to learn about the future of mobility. I find it compelling because it is estimated that 60% of the global population will live in urban areas within the next 30 years. Additionally, mobility is a critical means of social inclusion and the ability to have quality education, healthcare and employment is dependent upon one’s access to transportation. Finally, vehicles continue to be a factor in climate change and redesigning transportation creates exciting new business and technology opportunities with positive effects.

First was Ian Robertson, Director of Sales and Marketing for BMW. While it was exciting to learn of some of the new advancements in BMW’s products, I was more intrigued by the underlying shift in the company’s understanding of itself, an evolution that has come about due to changes in consumer behavior and desires. Programs like Mini E and Guggenheim Lab are giving the company insight to evolve from a product company to a service company. One key learning is that “usage”, or “access”, is more important than ownership. This has led to explorations of multimodal travel; people need different types of vehicles for different kinds of uses. I might be happy with a small electric car for my daily commute, but need a large family car for a weekend retreat out of the city.

BMW has created a venture capital group to invest in start-ups that are prototyping services for this new behavior. Recent investments in DriveNow, My City Way, and Park at My House are the first of at least a dozen companies BMW is funding.

Next Irene Feige, Director of the Institute for Mobility Research, led a roundtable on the future of transportation in urban areas. As her group has studied “mobility culture” they have discovered that walking and bicycling are declining in emerging markets around the world. A few thoughts emerged— cars are but one transportation mode in a chain of mobility needs and they need to be clearly connected as options within a system of buses, subways and bicycles in people’s minds. Second, growing population density can be helpful in solving some transportation problems if services can be decentralized and communication technologies can be improved to reduce the need for travel, ie. I can work from home and/or walk to my doctor, grocer and school.

The next roundtable was led by Inigo Urkidi, Director of the Bilboa Social Innovation Park. Inigo and his collaborators have invested heavily in bringing the MIT Media Lab’s foldable electric car concept to life. They call it Hiriko. Rather than being motivated by technolust or fortune, they actually started the journey with the question, “How can making this car create and distribute employment?”

They have invented a clever business that a) flips ownership of the brand to the the parts suppliers, b) distributes assembly to workforces in the cities that buy into the idea (Mälmo is first, followed soon by San Francisco and Berlin), c) builds a civic-sponsored car-share program, and d) creates opportunities for citizens to make some extra cash when they drive cars to pick up destinations. AND they have support from some unlikely players like Research in Motion to help build the communication infrastructure. This potentially disruptive start-up illustrates many of the ideas of the future…now.

The Best Coffee in the World
The Best Coffee in the World avatar

When I told friends I was coming to Buenos Aires I got an earful on personal safety and the trustworthiness of strangers. Here is a contrasting story to return balance to The Force.

I spent late afternoon today strolling around Capital Federal and decided to pop into a café for pick-me-up. I walked up to the bar and ordered an espresso to receive an immediate reply of three curious faces curling into question marks- my inadequate recollection of high school Spanish betrayed me. After struggling to order a coffee and standing awkwardly quiet while the barista’s futilely queried me, a gentleman from the kitchen stepped out and said, “sit down”. I did, relieved.

A few minutes later my espresso arrived. After a couple of quick draws I was done. These were minutes of bliss between two anxious storms. Now it was time to pay. I received my check and placed a large bill in the folder which she whisked away. A few minutes later a different woman, who appeared to be the manager or owner, arrived at my table and spoke to me in English.

“Do you have any smaller bills?” she asked.

“No?…Sorry….,” with my eyebrows raised and tail between my legs.

“No worries then. Go on. You don’t need to pay. it’s OK,” she said with a smile.

“Sorry—gracias!…. Uh,thank you,” bobbing my head profusely.

Embarrassed, I quickly took my bill, then grabbed the torn sugar packet and napkin from the table, shuffled out the door and promptly threw the trash away in a street refuse bin. The least I could do was bus my own table for a free cup of kindness.

People First
People First avatar

I am a designer, and as you might guess, a forum that includes thought leaders on policy and economics is intimidating to me, so I’ve had to brush up on my reading. During the past week I’ve been learning about our host country, Argentina. Several items have piqued my interest, especially given the sustained growth of public disappointment with governments around the globe a la Occupy (Your Name Here). Argentina’s economy has improved dramatically over the last decade after a horrendous collapse. People are happy about this according to researchers. I want to see it for myself and I’m glad I can!

If you listen to politicians and their arguments for solving our biggest crises, they are being boiled down to state vs. market. Which one should have the most freedom or control? Let’s be honest, both have failed us so it’s safe to say the answer is not any more black and white than the problem. Continuing the debate at a high altitude is not going to lead to actionable change. It’s going to be much more complicated because we – humanity – are complicated.

During the forum I’ll be wearing my citizen hat at a lower altitude— the ground. When challenges are brought forth I’ll be trying to understand from an individual’s point of view. By starting here I’ll be able to ask questions that might help define opportunities for design, opportunities that may lead to the social cohesion we desire. For example, how do people work around the system? What are their circumstances that have created this? What does that teach us about their values or latent needs?

This is the beginning of design: starting with the experiences of people. We identify the behaviors needed to create an ideal experience, then figure out what must be made, sold or written into law. It’s not an easy task— many times we (the people) don’t know what we need, so asking us doesn’t help. We are motivated more by our experiences than our beliefs, but we often speak from our beliefs rather than from our experiences. Learning how to observe is a key to overcoming this paradox so that you can design (or innovate) a solution. That said, I’ll be out and about this afternoon observing, and look forward to sharing more tomorrow when we kick off.