An inspiring experience at
the World Economic Forum

Leadership Network member Shruthi Vijayakumar describes attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) on ASEAN in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She was one of 25 people under the age of 30 representing the WEF Global Shapers Community who provided a youth voice at the forum.

The Global Shapers crew with Paolo Gallo, chief human resources officer of the WEF

Arriving in Phnom Penh

As I left the airport, I waved down a tuk-tuk and asked to be taken to the Sokha Hotel.

“Sokha Hotel?” the driver responded with wide eyes. “Yes, you know the one?” “Of course, 20 USD okay?”

A bout of haggling began, but we were soon on the road, admiring the beautiful mix of French and Asian architecture as we zipped through the city of Phnom Penh.

At the Sokha Hotel, where we would be staying and where the forum was to be held, I started chatting to the gentleman in front of me as I waited to check-in and we had a fascinating conversation about food systems in the region. I looked down at his card as I headed up to my room - he was the vice president of IBM.

The lively man at the elevator introduced himself as the Minister of Education for Singapore. And with us was a young man running an award-winning social enterprise that tackled neo-natal mortality in Myanmar. I was humbled by the calibre of people in the room.

World Economic Forum on ASEAN

The opening plenary featured the prime ministers of Vietnam, Cambodia, Philippines, and Laos

More than half the population of Southeast Asia is under 25 years old, and every day, 124,000 new people in the region gain access to the internet. 

In the face of rapidly developing technology and growing connectivity, there are huge challenges to overcome and opportunities to capture, to ensure inclusive growth for the entire region. This was the theme discussed by several hundred political leaders, business leaders, and academics at the forum.

The forum spanned over three days. Numerous sessions took place in parallel, exploring topics such as digital intelligence, infrastructure investment, water security, health and disease, as well as disability, among others.

There were a mix of plenaries, panels, and workshop-oriented sessions, which I enjoyed the most. I sat in two of these: One looked at purpose beyond profit, and another looked at rebuilding trust and overcoming corruption – where, in small groups, we explored issues, ideated solutions, and debated how best to move ahead.

Three key takeaways I took from the sessions were:

There is huge urgency for our education system to evolve. To thrive in a changing future, we need our education system to develop empathetic, adaptable, life-long learners.
Technology is a tool, and like all tools can be used for benefit or for harm. We need to question our motives behind developing technology and be guided by a purpose greater than profit and perdonal gain if we are to achieve inclusive growth.

We, as individuals, have a significant role in creating a more sustainable, transparent future. Social media and technology are shifting power into the hands of citizens, and through our purchasing choices, votes, and our expression, we have growing power to influence what our future looks like.

It was interesting to notice an absence of Kiwi and Australian presence at the meeting, particularly given the proximity and importance of the Southeast Asian region to our economy.

Quality conversations, warm hospitality

Shruthi says a highlight for her was meeting people outside of the conference and hearing their stories

While the sessions drew many people, the real heart of the conference I felt was in the networking space where many planned and serendipitous encounters took place.

I was once told networking is all about looking for ways to give and add value to the people you meet and felt I was absolutely on the receiving end of this after meeting many humble, accomplished individuals who were eager to help and give in any way possible.

One of the Schwab Social Entrepreneurs, Sébastien Marot, gave us a tour of his work and hosted us for lunch at his social enterprise restaurant. He runs an organisation called Friends International, providing vocational training to thousands of children in Cambodia and around the world, giving them skills in sewing, cooking, carpentry and construction and more.

The Cambodian Government and people moved us with their incredible hospitality. We had a Cultural Soiree one night where we were exposed to the various forms of art, dance, music and numerous delicacies of Cambodia.

Shruthi Vijayakumar is a member of the Global Shapers Community, a network of city-based Hubs developed and led by young leaders between 20 and 30 years old who want to develop their leadership potential towards serving society. The World Economic Forum on ASEAN ran in Cambodia from 10–12 May 2017.