What is the World Economic Forum Global Shapers Community, really?

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining fellow World Economic Forum Global Shapers from North America and beyond in Canada for the annual Shape North America conference (#SHAPENA17). On the last day of the conference, we realized: many individuals, including members of the Global Shapers Community, don’t know how to consistently answer the question: “What is the Global Shapers Community?” For my fellow Shapers, and for folks curious about our Community, I hope to offer some assistance. Spoiler Alert: No, we’re not Illuminati. Global Shapers is an international network of young people connected in our commitment to improving the world, starting with our own communities.

Big things have small beginnings: my start as a Shaper

My journey as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper began in 2013 in Beijing, almost by accident. I’d co-founded and started to scale Lean In Beijing. (The organization has grown from our first gathering of 10 women to more than 100,000 women across over 30 cities and 50 universities in China.) I was invited to apply to the Global Shapers Beijing Hub because of my activism. The Global Shapers I met seemed cool. They seemed like the kind of folks I could learn from. So, I joined the Community without really understanding it.

And I’m so glad I did.

Since 2013, I’ve interviewed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on pluralism and leadership, been trained by Al Gore on climate activism, and met with my #ladyboss role model Sheryl Sandberg. I’ve had the honor of serving as elected Curator of the San Francisco Hub; meeting peers from around the world at the Annual Curators’ Meeting in Geneva and three regional Shape North America conferences; representing the Global Shapers Community at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in Dalian, China; and attending the Annual Meeting in Davos.

Yes, it’s been awesome to meet incredible leaders like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right, Jan. 2016 in Davos); Vice President Al Gore (center, June 2017 in Bellevue, WA); and Founder of Alibaba Jack Ma (left, summer 2015 in Dalian)

But if you asked me to choose the best part of being a Global Shaper, it’s not any of this “fancy” stuff. It’s the people.

What *is* the Global Shapers Community?

Yes, we are a membership-based organization with a competitive application process. No, Global Shapers isn’t a shadow organization or cult. We’re not Illuminati. And, while our connection to the World Economic Forum means we occasionally get to do fancy things (like meet with the world leaders), Global Shapers is not just about Davos.

So what’s it all about?

I said before that Global Shapers is about the people. Specifically, Global Shapers is an international network of young people connected in our commitment to improving the world, starting with our own communities.

Let’s break this down:

  • International network: The Global Shapers Community is comprised of 5,000+ members across 400+ city-based chapters, or Hubs, around the world. Local Hubs tend to be small and intimate. Hubs have some common features: they’re led by an elected Curator who serves a one-year term; they’re limited to a maximum of 50 total members; and they must all take on local projects. Yet, Hubs also have a lot of autonomy in terms of how they recruit members, organize their membership on a regular basis, and select projects.
  • Young People: The World Economic Forum initiated the Global Shapers Community in 2011. In large part, the creation of Global Shapers was a response to the Arab Spring and shifting global demographics. Today, more than half of the world’s population is under the age of 30. New members of the Global Shapers Community must be under the age of 30 at time of application, and membership has a term limit (five years or the age of 33, whichever comes first) to ensure that the Community continues to represent young people.
  • Connected: Global Shapers are connected to each other. Our shared values of collaboration, service, social justice, and bias to action allow the community to share a high level of trust — even among members who have never met face to face. Global Shapers connect with each other at World Economic Forum meetings and annual regional Shape events. We gather informally for retreats. We engage online on Facebook and Toplink. We host Shapers that visit our home cities. And we seek each other out when we visit new places, too.
Informal West Coast Shapers gathering in Seattle (May 2016) and LA (April 2017); North American Shapers in Toronto for Shape North America (July 2017)
  • Commitment to Improving the World: The World Economic Forum is “committed to improving the state of the world.” Global Shapers share this ambition. And we demonstrate it by taking on local projects.
  • Starting with our Own Communities: We aim to have a global impact by starting local. We acknowledge that, if you want to change the world, you start first with yourself and your community. We learn from each other and collaborate on projects across cities.

What does a Global Shaper do?

For me, there are three key components that define the Global Shapers Community: action, community, and representation. We’ve now built these components into how we share about the San Francisco Global Shapers Hub, and even into our annual recruitment application.

  1. Action: We work together towards positive social impact. Global Shapers take action. In our individual professional lives, many of us are dedicated to social causes. But outside our day jobs, we are Global Shapers because we choose to commit time together to collaborate on projects that improve our communities. Some Hubs initiate totally new projects and ideas; others amplify the work of outstanding nonprofit organizations. In San Francisco, the new members of our community largely set our collective project agenda for the year. (See more about our community-oriented projects here.)
  2. Community: We form real relationships with each other and fellow change-makers around the world. As members of the Global Shapers Community, we have incredible opportunities to connect to the worldwide network of 5,000+ Global Shapers across 400+ city-based Hubs. We connect and learn from each other locally; we host visiting Shapers in SF from other Hubs (check out our Visiting Shapers Guestbook); and we bond with local Shapers whenever we travel outside of SF. We also have the opportunity to connect with other World Economic Forum communities.
  3. Representation: We represent young people at the table. The world is getting younger. Over half of the world’s population is under the age of 30 and in many countries like Pakistan, two-thirds of the population is under 30. Yet, young people don’t often have access to decision-making at the highest levels. As Global Shapers, we believe in “nothing for us without us.” We take on leadership roles in our own communities and represent young people on the international stage. Each year, a select number of Global Shapers have the opportunity to represent young people at the WEF Annual Meeting in Davos, the WEF Annual Meeting of the New Champions in China, and other events.
In San Francisco, our Hub works on connecting underserved young people to professional skills; raising money and awareness for outstanding education nonprofits; and building technology together with and for low-income and homeless residents. See more about our projects on sfshapers.com.

Help Define the Global Shapers Community

If you’re a current Global Shaper: Does this description resonate? What does the Global Shapers Community mean to you?

If you’re thinking about joining Global Shapers, know a great candidate, or want to partner: Each Hub manages its own recruitment, so consult your local Hub for the latest on process and timeline. In San Francisco, we have one round of official recruitment each year (usually in late spring / early summer). Our applications for the SF Shapers Class of 2017 are currently open now through July 31, 2017. If you’ve passed the age limit or don’t think you can commit to our membership pledge, we still welcome you to get involved. Consider joining a project team or attending a ShaperTalk event. (More on our website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.)