• The New Narratives Lab is dedicated to fostering a new generation of artists whose work focuses on social change.
  • The Lab is a World Economic Forum project developed in collaboration with 2020 Crystal Awardee, Lynette Wallworth, with major support from the Ford Foundation.
  • This year's fellows are photographer Rena Effendi; model, diversity activist and lawyer, Thando Hopa; and filmmaker, Wanuri Kahiu.

The New Narratives Lab is a year-long fellowship, dedicated to fostering a new and diverse generation of artists whose work focuses on social change.

The first cohort was nominated at the Annual Meeting 2020 and the three artists have spent the past year with one-to-one mentorship by the World Economic Forum’s network of Cultural Leaders and support from peers. The goal is for Fellows to develop the right skills to navigate circles of power and shift gears to create more impact.

What is a Cultural Leader?

The Cultural Leaders network convenes influential artists, cultural leaders and cultural institutions to engage them in the work of the World Economic Forum and to recognize the importance of cultural dimensions in all major issues.

Cultural Leaders help promote and advance inclusive and sustainable cultural change. The World Economic Forum collaborates with Cultural Leaders by co-developing exhibitions, performance, experiences and panels at our global and regional physical and virtual events, by commissioning and producing new work, and by engaging them in Forum projects such as the New Narratives Lab.

Examples include the Emmy-Award winning VR documentaries “Awavena” and “Collisions”, which was screened at the Australian Parliament and influenced the vote of new resolution to ban nuclear weapons, The Afghan Women’s Orchestra tour, which started a national dialogue on education, and the “ACCESS+ABILITY” exhibition on disability inclusion, co-curated with the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

The Lab is a World Economic Forum project developed in collaboration with 2020 Crystal Awardee, Lynette Wallworth, with major support from the Ford Foundation.

Wallworth describes the fellowship, “If you hold a dream of creating change in the world, it is an invitation to enter that space and learn the skills of leadership in order that your voice can be heard.”

A different way of working.

To mark the culmination of their fellowship, the three artists will come together at The Davos Agenda with Lynette Wallworth and Cara Mertes from the Ford Foundation, to reflect on their experiences and talk about women in creative leadership. Here, they reveal some insights from their fellowship year.

Rena Effendi

An award-winning photographer whose work portrays the socioeconomic effects of globalization on marginalized communities around the world. Effendi was supported by the photographer, Platon, to combine powerful storytelling with real-world impact through the creation of multistakeholder coalitions.

Our conversations were intimate, thought provoking and energizing.

—Rena Effendi

"The experience of the New Narratives Lab fellowship for me was very inspirational. As a storyteller who observes and documents the human condition, often photographing people in vulnerable situations, I am instinctively preoccupied with the concept of representation.

During our sessions I formed a close bond with both our mentors and co-fellows Thando and Wanuri. Our conversations were intimate, thought provoking and energizing. This fellowship created a space, where the participants did not only show support, but offered a very nuanced perspective, which sharpened my senses, making me more sensitive as a journalist and as a person assuming a leadership role of telling a human story to the public.

With the help of this fellowship and the deep meaningful interaction it brought, I felt comfortable enough to share my own vulnerabilities and reflect on them. As a result, I’ve grown emotionally and intellectually and become a more confident communicator, a better storyteller with a more refined and sensitive gaze."

Thando Hopa

A model, diversity activist and lawyer. In April 2019 she made history by becoming the first person with albinism to appear on the cover of Vogue. Hopa was supported by Grammy Award winning musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo in advocating for more inclusive representation in media to benefit and support all bodies and identities.

As a woman who carries intersectional political experiences – I found the fellowship to enlarge my approach towards my means and methods of communication.

—Thando Hopa

"The fellowship was an intimately layered experience for me. It opened up a path of varying perspectives on the personal, cultural, economic and political composition of narratives. The curriculum provided an interdisciplinary approach to leadership which made me deeply interrogate, explore and expand on my work that merges mediums of representation in media with cultural and structural activism.

Having Mam Angelique Kidjo, who is a visionary, as my assigned mentor, further textured my perspective and propelled me into developing projects that broadened the horizons of my work.

The investment of friendship, mutual assistance in problem solving techniques and actively relying on each other's knowledge base with my fellowship sisters had enormous experiential value for me as an artist and activist.

As a woman who carries intersectional political experiences – I found the fellowship to enlarge my approach towards my means and methods of communication, to widen my creative avenues and to explore institutional instruments that could further build towards an inclusive cultural economy.

The management tier of the narratives lab, provided a reference of empathetic and consultative leadership. Our sessions with them, as well as several experts and leaders harnessed a safe space for engagement, extracted the imaginative and dynamic potential of artistic work and curated discussions that broadened tools of emotional resilience, that I found to be necessary in maintaining the emotional and intellectual bandwidth required for sustainable and impactful leadership."

Wanuri Kahiu

A filmmaker whose award-winning stories and films have received international acclaim and screened at more than 100 film festivals worldwide. Celebrated abroad, her latest film Rafiki was banned by her government for depicting a joyful lesbian love story. Kahiu was supported by choreographer, media personality and one of China’s most popular TV hosts, Jin Xing, in developing the narratives that will empower artists in Kenya and beyond to advocate effectively for their freedom of expression.

If ever there was a need to deepen an understanding of artistic leadership, it is now, in the face of global fear, uncertainty and isolation.

—Wanuri Kahiu

"Being part of the inaugural class of the New Narratives Lab could not have come at a better nor a stranger time. If ever there was a need to deepen an understanding of artistic leadership, it is now, in the face of global fear, uncertainty and isolation.

Over the past year, through conversations with our mentors, Forum colleagues, the Narrative Lab classmates and through our masterclasses, I have an enriched understanding of effective, compelling communication - in both public and private spheres, created a roadmap for my career and personal goals, cemented my confidence in spaces that have historically excluded women of colour and formed a lattice of cherished friends and associates to walk this curious journey of artistry.

Above all, we, the New Narrative honorees, have been embraced into the Forum cultural family as equal contributors to a new era. One that needs open and honest imagination as much as pioneering business ventures, and one that embraces community as much as commerce. New Narratives affirms that we are forerunners into an unknown world, and has delivered core skills that allow us to contribute to our future as emotionally grounded and daringly creative leaders."