One Young World – reflections from Australia

Inscribed at the base of a statue outside Pittsburgh’s PNC Park baseball park is a quote from local Hall of Famer, Willie Stargell, recounting his arrival into Pittsburgh, which says, “Last night, coming in from the airport, we came through the tunnel and the city opened up its arms and I felt at home.”

And so it was for the 1300 delegates from 183 countries who descended on Pittsburgh for four days in October to attend the third annual One Young World Conference.

To many, the city of Pittsburgh was not an immediately obvious choice as host city, decidedly less internationally recognizable than the previous choices of London and Zurich. Certainly, coming from Australia the only prior knowledge I had of Pittsburgh was a vague awareness of the importance of the steel industry, largely based on an only slightly less vague awareness of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team.

But the more time we spent in the city, learned about its history and met our hosts, the clearer the reasons for the choice became. The stated purpose of One Young World is to gather together “young people from around the world, helping them make lasting connections to create positive change.”  Pittsburgh epitomized this purpose: it is a young city (~65% of its population is under 45) that has actively managed to transition its economy away from the collapse of its traditional industrial base in the 1980s, to a modern, sustainable economy based primarily on high-tech industries such as medicine, finance and education.  So successful has this transition been that Barack Obama references Pittsburgh as “a bold example of how to create new jobs and industries while transitioning to a 21st century economy.”

It was against this backdrop that OYW gave us the opportunity to engage in four straight days of robust debate about critical global issues, many of which I found directly relevant to our work at Bain & Company, such as the proper role of global business in society and how best to use business principles to improve economic outcomes, from alleviating poverty, to improving access to education and food.  Over and over we heard speakers talk about the importance of having a clear and driving purpose in starting and operating businesses, principles that can apply equally to a sole trading entrepreneur trying to start an education company in Africa, as to understanding many of the fundamental problems facing some of Australia’s largest companies today.

Throughout the conference we heard from a dazzling array of governmental and corporate leaders, each advancing the debate with their own unique points of view and fascinating experiences.  However, despite the impressiveness of these speakers, it was the extraordinary depth of energy and passion held by my fellow delegates that was both my first impression and remains my enduring memory of OYW.  It was hard not to be moved by the unapologetic optimism and youthful impatience of our fellow delegates as they each raised their issue and pressed their case for change.

This was motivating not only because of the recognition of the challenges we face but also because of what it suggested about our capacity to address them. As the conference progressed I became only more convinced by the contributions of my fellow delegates of the fundamental importance of the effective application of business principles to delivering more effective social outcomes.

I have arrived back in Australia from OYW with a renewed belief in the direct relevance of the skills and experience that I am developing at Bain & Company, and a heightened sense of determination to use those skills to help develop and pursue those solutions.

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