As described in the official website globalshapers.org:
The Global Shapers Community is a network of Hubs developed and led by young people who are exceptional in their potential, their achievements and their drive to make a contribution to their communities.
We are an initiative of the World Economic Forum (“Forum”), and support its commitment to improving the state of the world. The Global Shapers Community (“GSC”) was formed in 2010, as a community of young people (mostly between 18-30 years old). It was modelled after the Young Global Leaders, also an initiative of the Forum (for older cohorts of under 40 year-olds). We are currently about 450 hubs worldwide with almost 6,300 members across nearly 170 countries. Average hub size is about 15-30 Shapers. We are a collective of city-based and diverse groups of young people; cross-disciplinary with different backgrounds.
In Hong Kong, we have entrepreneurs of technology and non-technology businesses, journalists, writers, corporate executives, NGO leaders (covering art, youth, women, and cultural issues), restaurateur, physician, and a lawyer. Our current and past projects have related to addressing issues concerning foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, young asylum seekers and youth employment. Some of these projects are multi-year and involve multiple hubs around the region.
As our official name suggests, we are a community. We are not-for-profit. We are focused on fostering collaboration among “Shapers” to exchange ideas and develop social impact initiatives. We partner with community organisations, businesses and the government to do so. But we are neither an online social network, marketplace nor business matching or referral service. I think the core values of the GSC can be described in three-fold:
- provide city-based, regional and global networks for accomplished young people from different disciplines, who might otherwise not have the opportunity to interact with each other;
- empower Shapers to organise initiatives while being associated with the Forum. The “Forum brand” can in certain contexts provide excellent access;
- opportunities to participate in events organised by the Forum, and access to their initiatives and knowhow.
What we are today
Since the inception of the GSC, new hubs are started with the Forum’s approval by Founding Curators tapping into their networks and inviting referrals and applications from accomplished young people in their cities. The Forum provides standards and guidelines on a range of hub governance concerns, including recruitment, leadership succession, regular updating communications, and employs dedicated staff to support and look after hub development.
The Forum through various events and initiatives share its philosophy and thought leadership with the GSC and instil a sense of global culture. The Forum has published extensively on topics relating to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, multi-stakeholder analysis and socio-economic policies promoting inclusive growth. The Forum also engages hubs periodically by endorsing global campaigns and competitions to drive better project development.
By and large, however, the hubs are self-organising, and have to do many things on their own. Each hub faces challenges like attracting strong candidates to join the hub, keeping Shapers engaged and active in participation, setting suitable hub agenda, developing projects quickly, establish community partnerships, fundraising for projects etc. We operate lean. But, we don’t have to maintain a budget, answer to investors or worry about marketing (in the traditional commercial sense).
Each hub’s greatest assets are its Shapers. We can accomplish socially impactful initiatives because our Shapers are community-minded, ambitious and are already accomplished and influencers in their existing communities when they joined. They have track-records of leadership and collaboration, and they possess expertise in their fields and networks to make contributions.
Where is the GSC headed?
The structure of the GSC today predominantly revolves around a top-down Forum-led governance model and a hub-based operational setup. A hub could languish if internal and external communication channels are insufficiently maintained, and it becomes disconnected with the Forum.
About three years ago, some hubs have started sharing resources and information. The Forum has since endorsed this bottom-up movement, which presents many growth opportunities for the Forum and the GSC as well. The Forum has now recommended that the entire GSC consider improving inter-hub interconnectedness. Hubs, especially those from the same country or geographical region, should provide peer-support and collaborate together. The Australian hubs are great examples of hubs heading along this direction. The recent Global Gender Parity Week campaign is an excellent illustration of inter-hub collaboration among APAC hubs.
Sky Siu, immediate past Curator of the Hong Kong hub, notes:
The GSC has on its own moved towards organic growth, in order to maintain and sustain itself. This shows how our community thrives because at the heart of it are individual networks; connecting us through friendships and other relationships, and expanding to wider communities. That’s how a community could benefit from the amazing things that groups of people are getting together to make happen.
There is no one size fits all. Within the ambit of the hub charter and GSC constitution, each hub has great freedom to try different approaches to improve the hub and run its projects. Each hub is at different stages of development and many hubs have taken on unique qualities of their cities reflecting the local spirit. For now, the hubs are waiting for more concrete proposals on improving interconnection. In the meantime, hubs must try on different sizes to see what works for them, and share with fellow hubs best practices and guidance to grow as a community.
After getting to know many Shapers around the world, I have found that great hubs connect deeply with their affiliated cities. They understand who they are, what the most pressing issues are and what moves the city. For examples, the Amana 2.0 initiative of the Abuja hub (improving civic engagement between youth and security forces in North-Eastern Nigeria); the Mongol Ger project of the Ulaanbaatar hub (preserving nomadic culture among school students), the Chandigarh hub’s Shaping Vision initiative (providing eye-care to underprivileged children), the Venice hub’s refugIT project (securing housing and education for refugees in Europe), and the Bogotá Hub’s Camp Bakongo (a summer camp serving at-risk and underprivileged children affected by conflict).
Shapers participate as volunteers, and they have busy lives and many commitments. Without strong human connections and enjoyment of each other’s company, organising hub activities can quickly become a chore. Once member engagement evaporates, it would be enormously difficult to maintain the hub and regain traction. Each hub should therefore not be too large or else extra efforts are needed to keep everyone connected (e.g. forming sub-groups and coordinating between them). Tight networks and connections are essential to a healthy GSC. After all, great hubs are made of great friendships.