U.Va. Alumni Meet at World Economic Forum in Davos
UVA Today’s Matt Kelly reports:
University of Virginia alumni Micaela Connery and Tyler Spencer were among the “Global Shapers” who met at Davos, Switzerland, as part of the World Economic Forum talks Jan. 25 to 29.
Connery, who graduated from the College of Arts & Sciences in 2009 with an interdisciplinary degree in the distinguished majors program, and Spencer, who graduated from the College in 2008 with a self-designed degree in international health and sustainable development, are members of Global Shapers, an off-shoot of the World Economic Forum for those in their 20s and 30s. About 70 of these Global Shapers were invited to participate in the recent talks.
While graduating only a year apart, their paths had not crossed before Davos.
Connery is the director of Unified Theater, an arts group she founded while she was still a student at the Conard High School in West Hartford, Conn. Unified Theater works with issues of disabilities and youth education. Spencer founded, after graduating U.Va., The Grassroot Project, which partners college athletes and at-risk youth to fight AIDS, and is currently studying at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
“It’s pretty wild and awesome that in this group of 70 young leaders in the world, there are two Wahoos,” Connery said.
And the U.Va. influence was not limited to the Global Shapers. While in Switzerland, the pair met with Francis Collins, a U.Va. graduate currently directing the National Institutes of Health.
“Davos was one of the busiest experiences I have had,” Spencer said. “From 7 a.m. until 3 or 4 a.m., the schedule was packed – conference centers, hotel lobbies and restaurant lounges were buzzing with bilateral meetings, plenary sessions and informal discussions. The high level of energy around the event was the saving grace for long days. So many important conversations were had and big decisions made over the course of just a few days.”
Spencer cited as a big decision Bill Gates’ $750 million pledge to the Global Fund, which fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria around the world.
“I also had the opportunity to have some inspirational conversations with people like Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America; Francis Collins, a fellow Wahoo and director of the National Institutes of Health; Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize and founded Grameen Bank, and Zanele Mbeki, the wife of former South African President Thabo Mbeki,” Spencer said.
Connery said it was eye-opening for her to listen to world leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African Bishop Desmond Tutu, as well as talk with educators from other countries and see things through their perspective.
“A lot of us were trying to find a middle ground,” Connery said. “I think most leaders of major companies have good intentions. I think we can make some big strides if we work together and do not have an us versus them attitude.”
Connery, whose non-profit is based in Connecticut, said she had felt her affiliations were more local and national, but she said the conference is changing her viewpoint.
“I am learning to be more global as an individual,” she said. “I never had a global perspective before, but now I am more aware of my place in the world.”
There are about 600 Global Shapers, according to Connery, of whom about 70 were invited to Davos, adding new perspectives to the overall talks, she said. Both Connery and Spencer feel positive about the future after the Davos meeting.
“Both optimism around the possibility of change and improvement in the state of the world, and a challenging call to change models, promote equity and improve connectivity both between generations and global communities,” Connery said.
“I’m excited to continue what was started in Davos,” Connery said. “I don’t think the experience ends after a week in the Swiss mountains. I made connections, particularly in the Shapers, with people that I’ll continue to collaborate with into the future. I feel re-energized and re-committed to promoting inclusion, youth leadership and new models of change, and happy to have found partners who are passionate about the same things.”
Spencer said he will keep up with the contacts he made with other Global Shapers in Davos.
“I was optimistic about the fact that we were brought to the meeting and really engaged,” Spencer said. “It was promising to see that the leaders at the Forum were genuinely interested in our outlook. I think this will be important as we look to the future of the world for my generation and beyond. Globalization and technology have radically changed our approaches to solving the world’s problems. For me, I came away realizing how important it is that leaders of my generation and the generation before work together. The media likes to portray Gen X and Gen Y leadership styles as mutually exclusive, but I don’t think that is the case.”