What does the community of the future look like? It is global, decentralised, and hyper-connected  At the World Economic Forum, we have been experimenting with this type of model over the past 18 months with our Global Shapers Community.

The Global Shapers Community is a network of city-based Hubs that are led by outstanding young people in their twenties. Global Shapers give back by undertaking projects that positively impact the cities where they live. At the same time, they link these projects to global issues and challenges that they want to influence. The World Economic Forum provides them with the platform to discuss these issues (and share their solutions) with current leaders from business, government and civil society.  We call this exchange “cross-mentoring” because everyone has something to learn in the process.

The Global Shapers Community doesn’t empower young leaders – we believe that they are already empowered through education, technology and their own passion – and we have seen this to be true in our 200 Hubs worldwide- from Hulunbuir to San Francisco, Novosibirsk to Bujumbura.

We understand why companies, governments and other organisations find it challenging to engage “Gen Y” in an authentic way into their missions: managing this type of virtual, always-on community has numerous complexities. And it requires organisations to share power and extend trust at an unprecedented level and in unprecedented ways.

Because we believe that Global Shapers are already active agents of change, we give them a high degree of autonomy.  Shapers run the show locally: Hubs govern themselves, manage their own selection process, select projects based on their potential for local impact, and run local events with little centralized “control”  from our headquarters in Geneva.  We need this flexibility because what works in Beijing may not apply in Khartoum or Sao Paolo.

What keeps the community on track and functioning?  A very strong mission, vision and culture that is co-developed globally. Recently, we gathered Shaper leaders from each Hub to help us improve our global governance standards.  Rather than tell them what to do “top-down”, we discussed our concerns, potential risks, our aspirations and the limits of autonomy – and our Shapers came up with a global consensus for governance that was far better than anything we could have done alone.

This works because of the incredible diversity of the Community and because we engage in an ongoing flow of virtual dialogue with Shapers, sharing guidelines and best practices, creating content and encouraging Shapers to share their own. We provide the Community with the tools to communicate- through private spaces where they can interact as a group and public spaces where Shapers can share their own stories and that of their Hubs with the world at large. We engage on the social media platforms where Shapers spend their time.

Through the World Economic Forum’s unique multi-stakeholder platform, we aim to inspire, share knowledge, and connect people who would not otherwise get to know one another. We want to create the type of serendipity that can only happen when diverse, committed, and empowered people bond and decide to change the world, one city at a time.

David Aikman is a Senior Director and the Head of the Global Shapers Community at the World Economic Forum. Noa Gafni is responsible for communications and digital engagement on the Global Shapers team.

Photo Credit: Enrique Pardo