There has never been a lone inventor. Our achievements never develop in themselves but are influenced, triggered and shaped by the environment we act in. Thus, it is crucial to build the latter as rich and inspiring as possible. The World Bank Group’s Youth Summit provided an opportunity to do so. Let’s find out the most revealing takeaways!

1. Three underlying mantras.

We tend to rush into things. Time is a scarce resource and why would we waste it by reflecting before we enter an activity? Thus, we often jump right into a new experience. However, this is a wrong approach! If we don’t define our goals beforehand, we will never know what to look out for. Therefore, the summit started off with the question: “Why am I here?”

It is an interesting question which goes much deeper than it appears at first glance. Personally, I will try to apply it in my daily life. It leads us to the second piece of advice: “Do something that scares you.” Again, this invitation is way less superficial than it seems: It is not about daring to walk alone in a graveyard in the middle of the night. (At least, not exclusively.) It can be about not evading a conversation on an awkward topic. It can be about raising your hand when it comes to presenting a team result. It can be about leaving your phone at home when you go out in the evening. Maybe even paired with the graveyard experience?

This last notion leads to the last mantra: “Be present.” Experience the moment. Don’t let yourself be distracted by wallows of the past or plans for the future. Be here, be in the moment. Be in your physical place. Not absorbed by our phones, which is easier said than done. This leads us to the second takeaway…

2. Technology is not a driver of innovation. It’s a tool.

We live in a time of highly disruptive technologies. They connect our world and bring us closer and closer together. Often, we feel the urge to improve, refine and advance these technologies. However, the biggest potential lies not in these points. The biggest potential lies in using existing technologies to face existing problems.

This notion is at the core of design thinking. Innovazing co-led a highly interactive workshop with the International Finance Corporation and Inner Peacebuilding on this topic which opened up my mind: If you put us humans into the center of your endeavors, a huge array of options evolve. But more on this point later… Capturing: Technology is not a driver of innovation. It’s a tool and an opportunity.

3. Share thoughts and find commonalities.

Let’s move back to our environment. If you manage to be present in time and space, a result is that you start to ask questions. What are my neighbor’s thoughts on a certain aspect of my endeavor? At which point does his or her mindset differ from mine, and even more importantly, why? There is so much conflicting information out there. Seek and harness it!

In one session, the audience conducted a live survey. To me, the most exciting revelation was our answer on the most important thing the World Bank should do in the future. Many different aspects were mentioned, but the most cited one was “education.” This highly resonates with my worldview and it is amazing to find out that such a central aspect is shared with many other people. The community out there which strives to achieve the same goals as you, might be bigger than you think. This finding opens up doors to collaboration and win-win partnerships.

4. The hazard of irrelevant infrastructure.

We cannot predict the future. On the other hand, we must. Our actions, in general, center around the goal to make a future impact. Thus, taking a glance at tomorrow’s world is essential! It also highly resonates with our first mantra: Why we are here.

When it comes to technology, this aspect is even more crucial since it is involved with tremendous costs. At one point in time, the World Bank was faced with the decision whether to build telephone poles in Africa. On the first glance, this seemed absolutely reasonable: In order to build up a strong economy, investments in infrastructure were necessary. A few years later, mobile phones became omnipresent and telephone poles would have become obsolete.

The World Bank wisely decided against investing in telephone poles. This is more than a remarkable story. At which point in our entrepreneurial journeys are we faced with the risk of investing in something that might be obsolete in the future?

5. Empathy counts.

With the latter takeaway in mind, a technical understanding evolves into an increasingly important skill for entrepreneurs. However, becoming a technical genius is not enough! By now, social skills like communication, team spirit, and empathy come to the fore. We should all have human skills as we will always have the need to understand people through deep cultural acumen, the “people” aspect of business.

How can we improve our human skills? I’d say: Learning by doing. Communicate. Engage in a group and find out about the dreams, goals, and mindset for its members. Be creative. Note: Innovazing is highly aware of the potential of evoking and using a creative mindset! In fact, I facilitated a workshop entitled “Unleash Your Creativity” the day after the Youth Summit.

6. Put humans in the center.

There is a breathtaking story called: “A litter of light.” It centers on a project in the Philippines in which an entrepreneur developed bottles, filled with water and minerals, which were installed on the rooftops of people’s huts. With these bottles, sunlight was captured and dispersed in people’s homes. A simple, efficient and ingenious invention. But the path to this invention is equally ingenious!

It centers on the concept of design thinking which was facilitated in a workshop by one of Innovazing’s Founders, Saleema Vellani. The procedure starts with empathy: You put a human in the center. Which issues comes to your mind when you think of your community, your neighbors, and your friends? In a next step, it is about putting a problem into words. Then, you share your vision with another person, who tries to materialize a solution in the form of a prototype which is finally tested and evaluated.

 

The results of this concept are intriguing. But, astonishingly, design thinking sharply deviates from the way in which we tend to solve our problems.

7. Map a journey!

The huge advantage of prototyping is that you materialize a vision. An idea starts to transform into reality, even though it is a very raw version utilizing minimal resources. It is a crucial aspect to establish since we are often caught up in the abstract world of our thoughts.

Journey mapping is another tool to employ in this area: You segment an action into single steps and proceed, deeper and deeper, into the emotional and relational aspects of the involved persons. With this approach, you gain a deeper understanding and new perspectives on a problem you are interested in.

It is easy and intuitive. What is your personal journey?

8. Broaden your mind!

It’s about sharing. The world you act in does not end at your personal borders. It ends at the borders of the people you include in your life.

At the World Bank Youth Summit, I learned a fact I was never aware of before: One of the obstacles for entrepreneurs in developing countries is that they are often denied access to capital. In many cases, however, this has nothing to do with their entrepreneurial savvy or validity of their projects. The main barrier is that people are not able to prove a “digital identity” constant cash flows.

Insights like these reveal that the status quo, which we often take for granted, is not at all self-evident. Again, this opens up new perspectives we can include in our work, in manifold forms.

9. Brilliance is evenly distributed.

What personally moved me most, though, was the story of Christina Sass and Andela. Andela trains software engineers in emerging markets and connects them to companies in the US. It is an outstanding idea: Employees receive a highly qualified skillset. They work remotely in their home countries which prevents the hazard of brain drain. In the future, they are able to establish their own ventures.

Andela is a concept which brings worlds together. It was amazing to hear Christina speak and realize how deep she personally cares about the company. (Often, she seemed to have tears in her eyes when recalling a distinct story.) A remarkable and inspiring experience.

In a nutshell, Andela is a powerful vision and organic business model which, presumably, started with a human in its center. And, again, education counts!

10. How to become President.

Another highlight of the summit was to hear President Jim Yong Kim speaking. It was highly interesting to find out about his role and vision for the World Bank. But even more inspiring is that he originally advocated the abolition of the entire institution. Doesn’t this instance highlight the importance of disagreement, the value of new perspectives, and the power of arguments?

Again, it’s about perspectives. And it’s about dissertations. In the process of Kim becoming President of the World Bank, he was asked by then President Barack Obama why he, being a physician and anthropologist, would be an appropriate choice to lead a financial institution like the World Bank. Kim countered by referring to Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, who holds a PhD from the University of Hawaii in anthropology with a thesis on “Peasant blacksmithing in Indonesia.” He got the job.

As we can see, education counts. Interest counts. There is a huge potential in gaining new perspectives and sharing the ones you cherish. Now, the only thing left is to do something that scares us…

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