The expert in this interview will surprise you – Nico Lüthi is a second year Bachelors student and also a member of the organizing team for the St. Gallen Symposium, one of the most prestigious conferences in the world and one that encourages dialogue between the leaders of today and those of tomorrow. The “Leaders of Tomorrow” are chosen through an essay writing contest. The Symposium is completely organized by students, and Nico has travelled all over Asia to promote the contest. Excerpts from the interview:
1. What does your responsibility involve at the Symposium?
In total we are a team of 25 students with different responsibilities. I personally manage everything that has to do with the Leaders of Tomorrow, in close cooperation with my colleague Silvan. I joined the ISC team last September. In October and November I went to various cities in Asia, where I visited Universities in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bangalore and New Delhi. This was to promote the essay competition and to talk to distinguished professors to foster our academic network, and it was an amazing experience. Usually as a student you don’t get that opportunity to experience how it is to work together with people from different cultures and meet so many outstanding young personalities from all over the world.
2. The topic of this year’s Symposium is “Rewarding Courage.” Why was this topic chosen?
The St. Gallen Symposium is an interdisciplinary initiative. “Rewarding Courage” is a pretty broad topic: everyone from every field or specialization has something to say about it. It is about people standing up to express their opinion, people being creative. Defending your point of view, that takes a lot of courage.
The topic is divided into different clusters; one of them is “Putting Incentives Right”. Today everything is incentivized. We have to ask ourselves how we can place incentives in our society and in our corporate environment to promote this culture of healthy dialogue. The other clusters, they tell us that we have to ask ourselves how we can promote and foster responsible civic behaviour. Institutions like the European Union and the UN, for example, have a huge impact on our society and our daily lives. How can we shape these institutions so as to reward courage? Depending on one’s personal background everyone is able to highlight different aspects of the topic and that’s a great thing about it.
3. Do you think young people today are not as innovative or original as they can be?
You see, in Switzerland the standard of living is pretty high. Perhaps that is why people are not as innovative as they should be at the moment. They just tend to settle for what they have and not aim for more. In Asia, especially in India, it’s the other way round. They’re all very inspiring people, they try to achieve more. They’re very creative and innovative. Some people came from backgrounds that were not as privileged as people from Switzerland, for example, and they try to make the best out of their situations. They come up with a lot of great ideas and that was really nice to see. India is our No. 1 contributor of submissions. I have been able to learn a lot from Indian people. A lot of them were very self-confident. We are able draw the data of all participants of the last 16 years and since the 27th Symposium we’ve been able to bring 470 Leaders of Tomorrow from India to Switzerland.
4. Do you assess the impact of the competition? How?
Yes! We follow up to see what the winners are doing. We keep in contact with our large community. What we do is bringing outstanding young personalities from all over the world to St. Gallen. We give them an opportunity to present themselves on an international level where they debate on today’s key issues with top decision makers of the world of business, politics, academia and society as a whole. Participants tell us the Symposium really changed their lives. One participant from India I know is now working with a European venture capital and private equity company in Berlin. One of the winners of last year’s essay competition, a PhD student of IIM Bangalore showed me around Bangalore when I visited. So you see, not only do we have an impact on people’s lives and careers, but also a lot of great friendships develop.
5. What has been the best part of running a student-led organization? What are the challenges?
It has been a unique experience so far. This initiative gave me great variety compared to my daily life as a student. Of course you work hard but you are able to reap the fruit of one’s labour and actually see the results of your doing. Moreover, it is a great team experience. I got to travel, meet interesting new people, got to speak with so many top executives and different decision makers. While organizing such an event, you learn how to excite people for your product, you learn a lot about project management and you gain valuable experience that will hopefully come in handy later in life as a professional. It is important that you go to university and build a solid theoretical basis, but on the other hand it is also important that you do, say, internships, and acquire professional experience.
The challenge, I believe, is maintaining a balance between professionalism and your student charm. On one hand you have to be professional and work hard, on the other hand you need to be authentic and keep your student charm intact.
6. What would your advice be for those taking part in the student essay competition?
It’s not like the usual university assignment; it’s about being creative, coming up with new ideas. The Leaders of Today that come to the Symposium want to be challenged by the Leaders of Tomorrow. So we want fresh perspectives, we want the voice of the next generation, we want people who can contribute to the dialogue at the Symposium. Be creative!
7. What are your top three pieces of advice for student initiatives?
- Be persistent and always go the extra mile. You shouldn’t hesitate to make an extra effort for success.
- Maintain that balance between professionalism and student charm.
- It is an illusion to think that only 20 or 30 students can get together and organize such an event without any professional help. Build a network of professionals that supports you. We at the Symposium have a great professional and academic network of advisers.