Let’s stop talking about a Shapers’ debt

This article was written for the members of the Global Shapers Community. If you landed here by accident, check this out. But I’m guessing you won’t understand much of it anyway.

The Global Shapers Community is at risk. By now, most of us have heard this story: we don’t generate enough income from the partners to maintain our activities. So far, the Forum has been covering for the extra part (around €2 million per year), but the source is draining.

All of us are affected by the consequences: the team in Geneva has shrunk, the number of Shapers at the events is getting smaller and the financial help for these events (including ACM) is vanishing.

There is only one possible conclusion. Our community is not sustainable and we have to convince more partners it in order to continue existing.


What is the World Economic Forum?

Let me step back a little and ask this question: “what is the World Economic Forum?” — and perhaps most importantly “who is Prof. Klaus Schwab?”

The way I see it, the Forum is an organization that operates in the future. This means their role is to identify, study and create awareness about the latest technologies, social trends and ideas. They highlight the newest and most interesting disruptions, not necessarily suggesting the “best path”, but shedding light into the future. They look at the big picture while most of us are dealing with our own problems (or the ones from our organization, our institution, our country…). In short, the World Economic Forum recognizes the patterns of today that will be relevant in the near future.

That’s why they have hundreds of people all year long (yes, the Forum continue existing in between the events) digging deep in the most relevant questions of our world. That’s why they have the Global Agenda Councils. In a way, that’s why they created Davos. The website is, in fact, the Agenda Blog and is filled with articles that push the boundaries of knowledge. If they loose this ability to understand what is happening and what is going to happen, what do they bring to the world?

Prof. Schwab is the living synthesis of all this. If you ever visited the HQ in Geneva, you might have noticed the dozens of pictures of historical events where he appears in the background. He is not the one shaking hands on the peace agreement, he is the one behind it trying to figure things out.

Where do we fit?

We all know the community was created after the Arab Spring exploded. Now let’s try to imagine the morning when Prof. Schwab opened the newspaper, read about the turmoil in the Arab world and realized: We didn’t see it coming.

What the Arab Spring meant is that he (and the whole organization) had a huge blind-spot: they didn’t know what youngsters were up to. The response was quick and beautiful. The Global Shapers Community was formed.

Don’t take me wrong. I don’t think all this was an evil plan to control or “extract from” the youth. I think they spotted a crack in their very core and adapted quickly to be relevant in that matter. And that’s what I admire about the Forum: with all possible criticism, we tend to think of it as a huge-solid-structured organization, but in fact they are incredibly adaptive.

What is my point, then?

My point is that we have to recognize all the value the Forum might bring to us, but also the value we could bring to it. The Global Shapers Community is not just and accessory that looks nice. We address the very core of the Forum activities.

I don’t want to individualize it (saying the community is great because of this or that Shaper) or sound arrogant saying the Forum needs us in order to survive. The point is: the Forum need to understand the youth. It needs to be on track of our way of thinking and understand the next moves of youth before they happen. And we might be the key to it. When they ask us to answer to the annual survey, it’s not just because it’s nice, but because it’s the best way to understand our diffuse thoughts — and by the way, I also learnt so much by last year’s results!

If you don’t believe me, I will just quote what the next President of Coca-Cola in Latin America told us last week during the summit in Medellín: “Before our partnership with the GSC, I just wanted to be good at my job and sell Coca-Cola. Now I understand we have to talk about values. You can definitely teach an old dog new tricks and you guys have taught us much!

It starts to sound not so much as a crazy investment to me.

Are we really all this?

My whole narrative has a huge problem: we are far from achieving all the potential. We are a network of more than 6000 people in 500 cities all around the world! It is something really bold! And what are we learning from it? Very little.

Are we really creating the safe spaces to debate the complex issues of our time? How much we could learn from different points of view (from every different background) on gun control, immigration, gender equality, clean energy? The potential is unimaginable and I feel (maybe it’s just me) we are not tapping into it.

Sometimes I feel we go to the events to exchange business cards. It is indeed a nice opportunity (or much more than this), but let’s not be fooled: if we are there just for this, we are completely unnecessary. There are hundreds (or thousands?) of high profile business-and-government-men-and-women trying to get a badge. They didn’t give us one because our hub projects are nice, but because we can (in theory) bring the voices of youth and make the Forum even more valuable.

Maybe at some point, this idea was lost or became opaque. It is not easy to grow so fast and to gather such different people with one purpose. We might have lost track. Our presence is a bold move (not everyone there agrees with it) to make the Forum more permeable to different voices. Their events are amazing, but the content is sometimes very old-fashioned. Can we challenge that? Can we, apart from offering answers, help to rethink the question that are being asked for years?

To be part of the Global Shapers Community changed my life. It has given me friends, taken me to places, showed me ideas… I am incredibly grateful — and that’s why I think we should be more conscious of ourselves.

It might sound as an obvious idea looking that way, but every time we talk about our finances, we refer to it as a favor. Shouldn’t we see it as an investment much more than a gift?

So let’s stop talking about a Shapers’ debt and let’s start making this community great. Our projects are nice, but the real value is in the interactions. If we create something amazing through these exchanges, €2 million per year will start to sound as a reasonable investment to the Forum as well.