Global Shapers: young forward thinkers at Davos | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 24.01.2013
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Global Shapers: young forward thinkers at Davos

The Global Shapers are the youngest participants in the World Economic Forum. They're a growing interconnected community of people under 30 who are entrepreneurs, politicians or artists in their home countries.

He's 27 and has set himself a clear target. Daniel Buritica Cordoba doesn't want to become rich. "Instead, I want to change society," the Colombian says assertively - and doesn't take long to show that his words match his deeds.

He organizes a summer camp in his country, helping youths to get access to education. His Bakongo camp brings together young people from poorer families and students. In Bogota, he founded a Global Shapers Community with the support of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Technology fosters change

That community aims to bring about change through modern technology. Social networks play a pivotal role in this. "Young people in Colombia communicate predominantly via social networks where they organize themselves and exchange ideas," Buritica said. "That concept needs expanding - just think of the Arab Spring, which would have taken a different course without the likes of Facebook and Twitter."

Right now, Buritica is in Davos and is promoting new forms of communication while talking to established leaders at the forum in Switzerland. "We're the voice of the youth," he said.

Growing community

Global Shapers communities have already been founded in over 200 cities, mostly encouraged by mentors who bring some youths together and give them advice. But it's not so easy to actually become a Global Shaper. An applicant is put through a thorough application procedure, followed by personal interviews. Should the applicant cut a good figure in all of this, he or she will be allowed to contribute something in a voluntary capacity and use the fast-growing network to exchange with others.

The principle of sharing

Jonathan Teklu is only 27, but already mentor of a newly founded group in Berlin. The German with Ethiopian roots has experienced an Internet business career beyond example. At age 15, he founded a start-up company, to be followed by more as he went along. Today he holds a share in Springstar, one of the big lenders of capital for young entrepreneurs.

Each week he receives some 25 business plans. In Davos, Teklu is to deliver a speech about the development of the Internet. "In the mid-1990s, it was all about luring clients to the Internet, and in the early 2000s the name of the game was bringing people together, for instance via Web 2.0," he said. "And now it's about getting even more interconnected." He calls this the "sharing economy."

"Swapping your apartment when you're not around, my car or what have you, that would be an interesting thing for many," Teklu said. "It just needs a platform to do that and provide all the guarantees required." Many start-ups already offer such services.

Airbed a job engine?

Among other things, Teklu's Springstar has bought into Airbnb (formerly Airbed and Breakfast) from San Francisco. The young entrepreneur is proud of having supported firms that already have a workforce of over 1,000. And in Berlin, he's active in the Global Shapers. He works with students and renowned experts to think up ideas to make Berlin a better place to live or visit.

He's thrilled by the World Economic Forum, and that comes as a surprise to him. "Quite frankly, I'd never really taken a big interest in it," he said. "But now, within 24 hours of being here, I've already met JP Morgan chief Jamie Damon and had lunch together with the boss of Coca-Cola - and they've really asked interesting questions."

Dining with Nobel Prize winners

And Yin Mon Han, a young woman from Myanmar, dined with Economics Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz. She's a Global Shaper, too. In Yangon she gives advice to young Burmese aspiring to study abroad. But she says that all of them plan to return home later to help build their country.

Over 50 percent of all Burmese are under 25 years of age, many use the Internet. There's much potential in this, says Yin Mon Han. "I'm connected with the Global Shapers online, and whenever I have a question or need some advice I can use this network for the benefit of our whole group in Yangon."

Advice from seniors

Modern technology and social networks for the young are important tools. Mohamed El Dashan walks through the snow in Davos, his smartphone never far from his hands. The young Egyptian twitters as he works towards setting up a network of experts in his country. "What we lack are intelligent and competent advisers, he said, asking, "Where should we be headed, and which structures do we need to advance?"

He wants to get some recommendations from established players at the World Economic Forum. He's doesn't appear to be shy and looks open for new ideas - a prerequisite for getting what he wants.

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