How in-person networking can have lasting impact and accelerate innovation

Young Global Leaders convene in Bellagio, Italy: Networking is essential to any individual or organization’s innovation strategy.

Networking is essential to any individual or organization’s innovation strategy. Image: Young Global Leaders

Christa Odinga-Svanteson
Impact Communications Manager, World Economic Forum
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  • As the world rapidly evolves, innovation is key to resolving new and emerging challenges, as is the need to foster the right environment to harness change.
  • The Forum for Young Global Leaders recognizes networking as essential to any individual or organization’s innovation strategy.
  • Connecting with individuals from diverse backgrounds and industries can expose people to new perspectives, insights and ideas that fuel innovation.

Innovation has always been an important driver of progress and growth. However, innovation has taken on a newfound urgency in today’s fast-changing world. Organizations must embrace innovation to thrive in the ever-evolving business landscape, with technological advancements, geopolitical shifts and unpredictable consumer preferences shaping the playing field.

Accelerating innovation in a changing world requires a combination of strategies and approaches. One crucial strategy is to foster a culture that encourages risk-taking, experimentation and challenging the status quo. This approach entails creating a safe and supportive environment for innovation, providing necessary resources and incentives for employees to generate new ideas and celebrating achievements. Networking emerges as a powerful tool to facilitate these processes.

A fast-paced and interconnected world means networking has become more critical than ever. With the rise of social media, online communities and digital platforms, it has also become easier, faster and more accessible. These technological advancements allow people to connect and collaborate across borders and industries effortlessly.

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While the COVID-19 pandemic may have brought about a seismic shift in how we connect with others virtually, we cannot deny the impact of genuine human connections, in-person networking and the spontaneity of interactions. This emphasis on networking is found in the Open Innovation concept that encourages organizations to connect with external sources and improve knowledge exchange.

Broadening perspectives

The Forum for Young Global Leaders recognizes networking as essential to any individual or organization’ innovation strategy. By connecting with individuals from diverse backgrounds and industries, people gain exposure to new perspectives, insights, and ideas that can fuel innovation. This exposure enhances problem-solving skills, generates fresh ideas and contributes to building a solid reputation and credibility.

Collaborating with the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, the Forum for Young Global Leaders organized a convening that brought together 17 like-minded Young Global Leaders (YGLs). Working on projects addressing issues ranging from health and gender equity, climate change, impact investing and technology advancement for transparency and governance. The convening enabled the YGLs to connect with like-minded people, share knowledge, collaborate, exchange ideas and get feedback on their projects and ideas shaping the future.

As a result, participants were able to refine their ideas, identify new opportunities, gain a deeper understanding of the challenges they are trying to address and accelerate their innovation processes. The Bellagio Centre in Italy was an ideal location for the convening, offering a serene atmosphere for personal reflection and a vibrant setting for constructive group interactions.

It was inspiring to see how our work can lead to reduced bureaucracy, increased security, and capacity-building for governments while also unleashing the potential of the digital economy.

Jesús ‘Chuy’ Cepeda, Founder and CEO, OS City – Mexico

Camaraderie and support

Following the convening, we asked four YGLs what opportunities the in-person convening provided them as they worked to accelerate their projects.

Ian Solomon, Dean, Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy – United States

The YGL Bellagio Convening was an extraordinary opportunity to engage with fellow YGLs in an optimal setting for both private reflection and constructive group interaction. With a group of about 18 diverse and dynamic leaders from around 15 countries, each of us workshopped an individual project of importance to our lives.

In my case, the project relates to developing a global resource for current and future peacemaker-leaders to:

  • Learn the skills of conflict resolution.
  • Convene groups in conflict for working together.
  • Allow healing from trauma associated with conflict and peacemaking.

My main takeaways were the importance of developing and clearly articulating a differentiating value proposition for potential funders and other stakeholders. I received specific feedback on the importance of the healing and mental health aspect of my project and as I continued to share my idea with additional people, each would ask questions that helped me question and refine my thinking. I also learned ideas about potential funders and partners and was pushed to consider various in-person, remote, networked models of delivery.

Yoshinobu Nagamine, Senior Manager, Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance - Switzerland

To begin with, there’s a feeling of solace that comes with realizing you’re not alone. We often encounter predicaments both in our professional and personal lives and when you’re in a leadership position, it can be especially isolating. The realization that others have grappled with similar challenges can provide us with the fortitude and bravery we need to persevere.

Secondly, there’s a motivation to dream big and not settle for the status quo. The Bellagio encounter was a transformative experience that urged me to make the most out of our finite existence. The Bellagio retreat was undoubtedly the most outstanding experience I’ve had as a YGL. For nearly a week, participants were brought together like ingredients in dough, repeatedly kneaded and blended. Colleagues openly shared their stories, offered advice and imparted insights, all while keeping in mind the question, “How can I assist my fellow YGL?” This was the perfect recipe for creating a sense of magic and camaraderie among us.

Raya Yusuf-Sbitany, Chief Executive Officer, Derma Beauty Lab – Palestinian Territories

Speaking with the other fellows in the programme was also incredibly valuable, even if they were not directly linked to my industry or region. These conversations allowed me to gain new insights, perspectives and ideas that I may not have otherwise considered. Additionally, the relationships I formed during the residency may provide ongoing support, advice and networking opportunities as I continue to grow and scale my venture.

Leverage the YGL network in several ways, including being a sounding board, onboarding subject-matter experts to contribute to the content and seeking support in different areas related to starting and scaling a venture.

Jesús ‘Chuy’ Cepeda, Founder and CEO, OS City – Mexico

I was able to gain valuable insights into the impact of the work we do and the importance of creating meaningful connections with stakeholders. It was inspiring to see how our work can lead to reduced bureaucracy, increased security, and capacity-building for governments while also unleashing the potential of the digital economy. Furthermore, I realized that even though serving governments can represent high uncertainty for investors, there is still a strong incentive for lobbyists to fund GovTech companies like OS City.

On a personal level, I am deeply grateful for the connections I made with amazing women in the YGL community. Their stories and perspectives inspired me to create a podcast called “Papá de Niñas,” where I will interview these incredible women to inspire my daughters. I hope that this podcast will help other fathers and families to learn from these strong and accomplished women and to support their daughters in pursuing their dreams.

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