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.


Wow ! what a day
Wow ! what a day avatar

From Shikha Sharma at BMW forum Buenos Aires

Yesterday has been a day full of new experiences and all my senses are getting a generous dose of the Beautiful city of Buenos Aires….
Imagine a day which begins with a showers in the spa and ends with lots of wonderful wine and mesmerizing Tango , (even though being a teetotaler, I am high on the experiences of the day .
Speakers spoke passionately on the collaboration to give the Joy of acquiring a BMW , (even if the collaboration can be as different as exporting agricultural products to get export credits ) to the new image of a snazzy new i Beemer , to the next speaker who spoke about being conscious about ecology and saving the Amazon rainforest ( no forest , no rain , simple !) to empowering underprivileged kids through sports (cool huh …) to investing in social entrepreneurs (investor bankers getting a heart of gold ) it was a quite a morning . The rest of the roundtables were on as different as they get …mine was on democracy and technology , am realizing the power of technology in a new light ……
Today shall be a new day… looking forward and to all who couldn’t make it to the forum , no worries I shall dutifully report. , ah the joys of free press

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.

Quality Growth and the Pursuit of Happiness
Quality Growth and the Pursuit of Happiness avatar

Some Reflections from Day 1

First of all, it was great to see so many familiar faces, old friends, and fellow alumns of previous young leaders fora. Over the years, this has become one of the great benefits and pleasures of being part of the young leaders network. Kudos to everyone working hard in the background to make this all happen for us here in Buenos Aires!

I wanted to share my key takeaways from one of the afternoon roundtable sessions on the meaning and implications of “Quality Growth”, which also included a discussion on the importance of Happiness in society. As a former McKinsey colleague of mine recently joined the Kingdom of Bhutan’s very own Ministry of Happiness, I was keen to find out more on the topic during the roundtable discussion.

It was a candid and lively session hosted by Prof. Ming-Yu Cheng from Malaysia. She drew on her own research on this topic, including insights from her work with the World Economic Forum, to solicit additional inputs and perspectives.

“Quality Growth”

When I came across this term earlier this morning, it conjured up other oxymorons and euphemisms in my mind like “Quality Time” with family and friends, which should be a familiar concept for all us “busy people” attending the forum. Kidding aside, was “Quality Growth” – one that by some definitions also ensures sustainability, inclusiveness, equality, and happiness – even possible or just a pipe dream of rich(er) economies that could afford it?

Don’t get me wrong. On paper, Quality Growth of course makes sense. The pursuit of growth can’t just be about pure materialism in terms of bigger paychecks and bigger cars and bigger houses to match. I figure, if you uplifted China and India to the per capita energy consumption and industrial output levels of North America, we would soon have to find a new planet to live on. So is there a way to pursue some reasonable rate of economic growth while respecting the environment, basic human rights, and the overall pursuit of happiness?

The discussions came up with themes along the familiar lines of how to measure growth, what the reasonable growth rate would be, and if growth even made sense as a primary metric at all. After all, hasn’t the relentless focus on GDP growth fuelled the exploitation of natural resources and other factor inputs, especially in many developing countries? There are endless examples of deforestation, poisoned rivers, forced labor, and other man made disasters that underline this point.

However, the tradeoffs and values related to economic growth are often very contextual, especially when we look at it from a developing vs developed market perspective. What a developing economy might view as a legitimate and fair price to pay to drive growth, alleviate poverty, and ensure the basic survival of its citizens in many cases, will surely be viewed very differently in developed markets, where aspirations and ideals have gone way beyond serving the basic needs of society. You can say many things about China and it’s economic policy agenda, but by some measures there has also been no other country in history that has uplifted so many people from poverty within such a short time frame.

We have seen the opposing perspectives on “Quality Growth” most blatantly in the very closely linked and on-going debate on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions targets. Many developing economies view these proposed restrictions as outright efforts of the industrialized world to limit or deny their legitimate right to economic growth and undermine their competitiveness. After all, some might argue that it isn’t too long ago when industrializing and former colonial powers deployed the very same growth and expansion tactics that they frown upon today.  Of course, this is painting it a bit black and white, but there are clear polar opposites on the question of “Quality Growth”.

On top of that, it would also be foolish to put all developed countries into one bucket on this topic. The Rhineland-type social market economies of continental Europe are quite different from Anglo-American free market economies, and both camps would surely have very different definitions of “Quality Growth”, especially when it comes to the role of central government, regulation, taxation, and private sector target-setting. It’s hard to find consensus on this topic even among the league of advanced economies.

So at least in my mind, there is not yet a clear answer to the question of what “Quality Growth” really means, not to mention how to measure it. Far more experienced economists, researchers, and policy makers are working on the issue, as witnessed during the World Economic Forum. The best I layman answer I can offer at this stage is a somewhat unsatisfactory (and typical consultant’s) answer: “It depends”.

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.

Reporting from la Capital: Buenos Aires
Reporting from la Capital: Buenos Aires avatar

Hola a todos,

Tonight, I finally managed to stay awake and live the charm of Buenos Aires while dining at Lo de Jesus in the hip Palermo neighborhood. Argentinean steak is as succulent as expected and the Malbecs are as smooth as silk, so prepare for some culinary delight besides the jet lag in the upcoming days.

Back in 2005, I almost flunked a class at B-school for defending Argentina’s decision to default on its debt. Having breathed Buenos Aires in the last couple of days has imparted me with more pleasant memories.

Besides the exquisite purple jacaranda trees, what I have been pleasantly surprised to witness is the authentic pace of life, what lives and feels like a well established urban infrastructure, and the high rate of older city dwellers enjoying a chat at the cafes and present on the streets which to me signals social inclusion apart from an aging population.

What has also struck me was how visual and relentless the habitants are with vocalizing their messages on the sidewalks and walls that make up this city. I am sharing those I spotted by the Congress building. The very same ones were repeated over and over again on almost every street I walked by in different neighborhoods. It made me wonder to what extent social media is used in Argentina.

And here is something I brought up while dining with Matthias this evening and I want to ask you the same: when was the last time you learned of a new concept from someone?

Once done with school be it undergraduate, graduate or postgraduate, and having assumed leadership positions at existing or self-initiated organizations, there comes a point where nobody is systematically “feeding” you with new ideas and concepts; rather you have to develop the opportunities to continue to learn and be truly stimulated. Therefore when I read the sign “Expectimus Dominus” on the gate of the acclaimed Cementerio de la Recoleta today, I realized I was expecting to meet with all of you to introduce me to new passages in the labyrinth of knowledge and progress.

I am truly thankful to the BMW Foundation for providing us with that opportunity. This gathering promises to be as enlightening as reflected by the intellect, diversity and dynamism of its participants, organizers, and contributors.

See you soon.

First posting from Salta, Argentina
First posting from Salta, Argentina avatar

Iguazu Falls - at the tri-nation border between Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay

Fellow Forum participants,

I wanted to get things started with a post on the road, as some of us have already hit the ground in Argentina. I am currently in Salta, a provincial capital in northern Argentina, along with other forum participants who joined the country pre-tour. Our diverse and fun group hails from Germany, Singapore, China, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and the Philippines.

It’s been a fascinating couple of days in the country, starting off with Buenos Aires, a quick flight over to Iguazu, and another flight to Salta. First impressions of Buenos Aires have been quite impressive – the energy and bustle of an emerging economy coupled with the old grandeur of a country with European heritage.

Having spent a full day exploring the city on my own, I was struck by the contrast between the glitzy new offices, condos and venues at the Port Madero waterfront (which remind me of the London Docklands and Canary Wharf) versus the leafy and posh neighborhood of Recoleta (which could easily be mistaken for streets on the Upper East Side or South Kensington). In any case, Buenos Aires promises to be a great venue for this year’s forum!

Our first stop took us to Iguazu Falls and National Park – recently voted as one of the world’s seven world wonders, and rightly so. Even those of us, who have had the chance to visit Niagara and Victoria Falls were awestruck by the forces of nature and the magnitude at display in Iguazu. Despite the aviation strike, rough weather and crowds, all of us agree that is was definitely worth the trek to get there. There is nothing quite like it.

Our second leg has taken us to Salta, one of the largest cities in northern Argentina. Using Salta as a base camp we explored the wonderful indigenous village of Purmamarca a few hours drive away, including the famous Cerro de Siete Colores, the Hill of the Seven Colors. Words cannot describe the landscape and the vast mountain ranges we crossed over the past 48 hours, including an ascent to over 4,000m above sea level and a stop at the Salinas salt lakes with their moon-like surface.

On the way back from Purmamarca, we also had a chance to visit an award-winning NGO engaged in community building work in Abra Pampa. The Asociación de Mujeres Warmi Sayajsuqno, founded by Ms. Rosario Quispe and a core group of perservering indigenous women, has sought to alleviate the challenges of high local unemployment, famine, and an exodus of the working men to the big cities. In addition, local industry appears to have caused contamination of soil and water, which poses severe health risks to the local population.

Through a combination of micro finance loans, skill and capability building, and job creation schemes linked to local cottage industries, the NGO has done a great deal to help the community. Against all odds, these women continue their daily struggle to make a difference for their families and community members. My hat goes off to them. Coming from a developing country myself, the Philippines, I can relate to the uphill battle they face against industry, government, and other vested interests.

Let me stop here for today. Stay tuned for more posts once we return to Buenos Aires. /


Welcome to the Young Leaders Blog!
Welcome to the Young Leaders Blog! avatar

Dear visitor,

After a long year of preparation, filled with inspiring conversations with so many people who helped us organize the Forum and a never-ending stream of emails, we are proud and happy that the 3rd World Young Leaders Forum will start on Thursday.

With this blog we want to highlight the variety of topics to be discussed at the Forum and primarily bring in personal perspectives. Thus, we have invited participants from different walks of life and world regions to blog during the Forum. A huge thank you to all of them!