Caught My Eye

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Leaders of the Future

There has been rather a long gap between publishing Part 1 and this, Part 2, of my Geneva experience. The reason for this is the three week holiday back home to South Africa that I have just returned from.

In my last piece I introduced you to the work that I would be doing in Geneva, briefly described my nomadic, AirBnB-based, living and travel arrangements between Switzerland and the Isle of Wight and alluded to the existence of a prestigious fellowship. That is where I will pick up the story.

Neverending StoryWhen the possibility of going on secondment to the World Economic Forum was first floated to me, there were a couple of options for the nature of the secondment. Option 1 was to go to Geneva for around 6 months, work on Project MainStream, get involved in the Annual Meeting in Davos and return to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation after that in February 2017. Option 2 was to commit to being seconded for 1 year and to take the opportunity to apply for the Forum’s Global Leadership Fellowship which, if I was successful, would extend the secondment to 3 years.

Now, what is a Global Leadership Fellowship, you say? Essentially, it is the World Economic Forum’s internal leadership training programme. Thousands of people from around the world apply to be one of about 20 fellows in an annual cohort who spend 3 years working at the Forum, taking part in academic modules at world leading business schools such as INSEAD, Wharton and London Business School as well as receiving personal mentorship and leadership coaching throughout. At the end of the programme fellowship alumni may then continue working at the Forum or go on to hold leadership positions in other organisations.

How could I possibly pass on the opportunity, slim though it seemed at the time, of getting onto such a distinguished leadership programme? Never-mind the minimum requirements of being 30 years old (I was 26) with at least 4 years of work experience (I had 2). Being an ambitious chap, naturally I selected option 2!

Once I’d decided to give it a go, the application process took up the entire first 6 months of my secondment. First was the online application, which involved uploading a CV, providing references and a few short motivational essays and the like. Along with this were a few psychometric and emotional intelligence assessments (kind of a supercharged version of this).

Next came the interviews. The first was a short “get to know one another” conversation with one of the programme coordinators. This was then followed by a discussion with a panel of current fellows where we talked about the work I was doing at the Ellen MacArthur Foundation,  my motivations for working at the Forum and why I was keen to get onto the fellowship programme. The final interview was done via Skype with an executive recruiter external to the Forum and here we dived into my background, skills and work experience. All of these took place between June and July 2016.

interview

A few weeks later – by which time I was well on my way to settling into life and work at the Forum – I received word that I had made it through to the final hurdle in the process. I was invited to attend an assessment day in October.

The assessment day itself was one of 5 or 6 such days held at the Forum’s offices in Geneva. There were around 15 people in the room, from as near as Geneva itself (current forum employees can apply for the fellowship too) and as far away as Zimbabwe. We spent the whole day together and were put through our paces in decision-making simulation exercises, crafting and delivering presentations and taking a few more psychometric and emotional intelligence tests for good measure, all under the scrutiny of the programme coordinators, alumni and current fellows. We had just about enough energy left for a well-earned drink in town when it was all over!

With all of the essays, interviews, simulations and presentations done we returned to our desks (or flew back to Zimbabwe!) with nothing more to do but wait (and get on with our jobs). We would find out in due course if we had done enough to earn a place in the 2016 cohort.

I went back to my AirBnb’s, my travel back-and-forth to Cowes and getting stuck into my project, which by now was becoming such an all-consuming element of my life (more on that in the next post) that I could easily have forgotten I’d even applied for the fellowship!

Two months later as I poured myself a glass of water in the kitchen of my family’s home in South Africa, while on an all-too-brief Christmas holiday before Davos, my phone buzzed in my pocket. With a sigh (and probably rolling of eyes) I set the glass down and drew out the phone – I’d developed a slight phobia of emails by this point. I opened Gmail and there at the top of the inbox read the subject line: “Congratulations!

I was now a Global Leadership Fellow.

 

The Adventure Continues

It has been a year since I left South Africa. Since I set out on a journey that would take me around the world; from South Africa to Australia, New Zealand (or Middle Earth rather), the USA and, ultimately, The UK. I have now been in the UK for 7 Months and am 5 months into my masters degree at Cranfield University.

Bilbo-Baggins-Im-Going-on-an-Adventure-The-Hobbit

I am here studying an MDes in Innovation and Creativity in Industry at the Centre for Competitive Creative Design (C4D) at Cranfield University. It has been a roller coaster ride thus far and I have worked harder than I ever have before, but I have learned more than I could have dreamed of. Not necessarily in terms of academic knowledge (I can hardly claim to be learning more than any other masters students around the world), but so much more than that.

I am part of a cohort of around thirty students who come from no less than 15 countries, including China, Mexico and Poland. Just having the chance to learn and work with such a diverse group of people has been an experience in itself. When you spend an entire weekend in the studio attempting to finish a piece of work with your team, you learn things about cultural differences that are impossible to learn while on holiday! We have, however, developed a great tradition: on Friday evenings, when the weeks work is done, we have an international dinner where people endeavour to share food that is traditional to their country. It always turns into an night of sharing stories of life at home and usually ends up on the Student Association dance floor.

C4D 2013/14

On the academic side we have been exposed to ideas and concepts at the cutting edge. We have been lectured by industry leaders, formula 1 engineers and world-renowned researchers. We had 8 week-long taught modules on topics such as innovation management, consumer trends and behaviours, and whole system design. We are now into the next phase of the program, a three month group project conducted in collaboration with industry. My own project, which involves research into the Circular Economy, is running full-steam ahead.

Following the completion of the group project at the end of April we will immediately begin our individual thesis projects. This will make up the final stretch of the one year masters degree that concludes in September. Once all that is done it will be time for me to start thinking about the next adventure.