Diverse young minds with shared goals gather in Beijing
By Tao Xing  ·  2024-04-29  ·   Source: NO.18 MAY 2, 2024
Members of the Global Shapers Community visit the Great Wall in Beijing on April 14 (COURTESY PHOTO)

A group of people under the age of 30 sit in a coffee house in Beijing's Dongcheng District on April 16, reflecting on their freshly concluded Social Impact Week (SIW).

"It's been an amazing week!"

"The Great Wall is one of my favorite places."

"It's great getting to know so many excellent Shapers here."

"I still want to visit the Palace Museum."

"The payment system in China is still difficult for (non-resident) foreigners to use."

These people, known as "Shapers," are members of the Global Shapers Community, a network of young people aged between 18 and 30 working together to address local, regional and global challenges. Born out of the World Economic Forum, the Global Shapers Community has more than 14,000 members worldwide, spanning 517 city-based hubs across 150 countries.

The SIW 2024, with its theme The World in Beijing: Rejuvenating Impact, running from April 12 to 16, is the annual flagship event of the Global Shapers Beijing II Hub. It's a dynamic gathering that encourages collaboration between the global community and the Beijing Hub to work for the greater, social good, focusing on areas such as sustainability, wellness and wellbeing, and Beijing's global role. The Beijing I Hub comprises all Chinese members, whereas the II Hub is an international one with a mix of Chinese and foreign members, reflecting Beijing's transnational character.

Shapers from over 20 nationalities participated in the SIW 2024, with 16 flying in from outside the Chinese mainland, according to Alliance Niyigena, the Norwegian curator of the Beijing II Hub. Niyigena is an investment analyst at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in Beijing.

"Compared to previous years, this year we also invited people from abroad," Niyigena told Beijing Review, adding they wanted people engaged in social innovation and social impact undertakings abroad to come and learn more about China's approach to these endeavors. Additionally, they wanted to offer support as any society-oriented work often depends on networks and connections to maximize the impact of limited resources.

"People are curious because after the three-year COVID-19 pandemic, many young people did not have the opportunity to engage much with China or Chinese people. There were fewer exchanges overall, but then China was also very often in the news," Niyigena said, adding she believed what motivated many participants was the opportunity to experience Chinese culture, and China, firsthand.

Coming here 

"I came from the Yokohama Hub in Japan. I participated in this [Social Impact] Week to meet Shapers from different professional backgrounds and different countries.Plus, I also wanted to better understand how China has been trying to recover from the pandemic," Kenmaru Suedomi, a Japanese data scientist, told Beijing Review.  

Before the pandemic, Suedomi had spent one year at Peking University learning about the Belt and Road Initiative, a China-proposed endeavor to boost connectivity along and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes. "It is one of the most important policies that the Chinese Government has been promoting, not only to Japan but also to different countries," he said, adding he was very excited to see how China had changed and is changing.

"I think people who are interested in China should go to Beijing and see what China looks like. Because if you don't go to places, you will never know the truth about them," Suedomi said.

Naif Al-Dhaban, a consultant at global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in Saudi Arabia, visited China for the first time. His curiosity about the Chinese people and culture drove him to partake in the trip. "Given the amazing developments that are happening in the Beijing Hub and in terms of the moves that China is making, it's fantastic to be here," Al-Dhaban said.

As mobile payment has become the most widely used payment method in China, especially in major cities, the payment system has been a point of interest for foreigners planning to visit China.

Since July 2023, visitors to China can, for example, link their Visa and Mastercard cards to China's two most popular mobile payment platforms—Chinese tech giant Alibaba's Alipay and Tencent's ubiquitous super app Weixin (WeChat), allowing them to hail taxis online, take public transportation and pay for goods and services at outlets across the country.

The People's Bank of China, the country's central bank, in March released a comprehensive guideline to the different payment services available in China, covering everything from mobile payments to bank cards and cash. The guideline highlights that no IDs are required for transactions under a certain amount when foreign visitors use mobile payment services such as Alipay, Weixin Pay and UnionPay, and some international e-wallets are accepted by merchants in China.

Prior to his arrival, Al-Dhaban had already set up Alipay and Weixin on his phone, but he didn't know how to use the apps. "But after using them for the first time, it quickly became very convenient. It's nice to have one application that I use to call transportation, to pay for things, to translate, etc.," he said. "Now you can use just one app to do many things."

Other participants who have lived in Beijing for many years also shared valuable insights about the city and the country. "I've been looking to hear specifically from people living in China, expats, to learn more about how they live here, their experiences, and their perspectives," Al-Dhaban said.

Global Shapers share their reflections in a coffee house in Beijing on April 16 (TAO XING)

Shaping the future 

In each city-based hub of the Global Shapers Community, teams of Shapers develop self-organized projects that address the specific needs of their communities. These projects cover a broad spectrum, ranging from disaster response and poverty alleviation to fighting climate change and fostering inclusive communities. Shapers come from different backgrounds in terms of expertise, education, cultural heritage and identity, but are united by their desire to bring about positive change.

During the most recent SIW in Beijing, the organizers hosted several networking activities aimed at facilitating the exchange of ideas between participants and local young leaders on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals constitute a transformative agenda agreed upon by all 193 UN member states in 2015 to end poverty and hunger, reduce inequalities, confront climate crisis, and build more peaceful, prosperous societies by 2030.

"We need to talk about the future. Through the SIW, I learned about the importance of harmony, diversity and inclusion," Suedomi said.

Recognizing the many challenges the world faces today, Suedomi highlighted that these issues cannot be tackled by any single individual or nation alone. "Collaboration and collective effort on a global scale are essential in addressing the complex challenges we face," the data scientist shared.

Al-Dhaban added he intends to develop networks and connections with other Shapers, and looks forward to potential partnerships.

According to a report released by the Global Shapers Community in 2021, on the occasion of the initiative's 10th anniversary, since 2017, Shapers had directly benefited almost 2 million people through locally led projects and reached or mobilized over 11 million people. They have volunteered 46,000 days, changed 37 policies and advanced all 17 SDGs worldwide. 

"The key purpose [of the SIW] is to gather all actors working in the field of social development or social innovation, or trying to create some social impact in Beijing, together for a little bit of a celebration of what they do. Because usually, the people doing this type of work barely get any recognition," Niyigena explained.

(Print Edition Title:Global Shapers) 

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon 

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