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Talking Transatlantic… The role of the arts in Intercontinental Dialogue and Leadership Development

Challenge yourself to make something, sometimes out of nothing.
Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin media

Begin Anywhere.
– Bruce Mau, Bruce Mau Design

Innovation needs collaboration and shared value system to be successful.
Gravitytank, Chicago

Tell your Story.

Advance a discourse of pluralism, as opposed to extremism.
– Eboo Patel, Obama advisor on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

Don’t be afraid to fail.  Failure can be quick and easy or slow and painful. You choose.
Brad Keywell, founder of Groupon

This advice only scratches the surface of the knowledge and inspiration shared at last week’s TN2020 summit in Chicago.  TN2020 is a network for action which brings together  emerging leaders from Europe and North America to revitalize transatlantic and global links for the future. Aged 25 to 35, the network includes young professionals from business, civil society, the arts, science and media who are on track to lead their professions and societies by 2020. I represented UMS and the arts along with a handful of other “creative types”… actors, fashion designers, dancers and educators.  We were joined by a mind-blowing array of other accomplished leaders, from the Editor-at-Large of Wired UK, to the social media strategist for NASA, to a huge number of advisers to the UN, EU Parliament, World Trade Organization, and other major policy organizations.  The bios alone for my fellow participants were inspiring.

The TN2020 Network

The British Council, the UK’s cultural relations organization, created TN2020 in order to continue to strengthen and revitalize the transatlantic relationship, particularly among leaders who reflect the new dynamics and demographics on both sides of the Atlantic.  I believe the network will achieve the British Council’s goals,  not only building cultural understanding and dialogue through our personal and professional relationships, but also effecting social change through inter-disciplinary collaborative projects.

So what actually happened last week? How will this social change be realized?And what does it all mean for my work here in Michigan?

First, there are concrete skills and learning that last week’s will  immediately bring to my work at UMS:

–          Storyboarding to create innovative solutions to process problems

–          Partnership analysis and development of outcome-based metrics

–          Programmatic ideas to build creative capacity and community connections

These are all well and good.  But for me, some of the most important outcomes were the intangibles.  As my Italian friends might say, a certain non so che (I don’t know what) that is almost indescribable, though I’ll try mightily to do proper justice to my friends there and the experience itself. My friend Tricia Wang (an ethnographer studying new and underserved users of technology in China, the US, and Mexico) tweeted: @triciawang “is anyone else finding it difficult 2 sum up ur #TN2020 experience in Chicago 2 friends/fam? So unexpectedly deep, intense, fun, & revealing.”

Two days of small group work started us off, related to the themes of sustainable living, building resilience in communities, and creativity and innovation. “Track 5” – the best, though I’m slightly biased — focused on innovation in public/private partnerships.  We worked with google, Microsoft, an innovation collective called gravitytank, and explored case studies of Pixar, Chicago Gateway Green, and the greater Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. In one of the most exciting sessions, we brainstormed on the value proposition for Gateway Green, offering new frameworks for potential funding and business partners.   I found myself wishing UMS could bounce a few ideas off this same group!

Both in the track and beyond, we heard from innovative and creative speakers from the Chicago area, immersing ourselves in the Big Ideas our host city was and is developing. Most were new to me, even though Chicago is “just down the road”… and it renewed my appreciation for the energy of the Great Lakes region.  It was also wonderful to hear my other colleagues so overwhelmed and impressed by everyone’s friendliness and Midwestern hospitality.

After four days of inspiration, service, debate, and connection, we moved into practical brainstorming about projects that we could work on together over the next year. From development in Kosovo, to the beginnings of a TN2020 thinktank, to arts integration in educational core curriculum, the ideas were diverse in focus and scope, but there was certainly something for everyone.  We’re all inspired and excited to work on these projects over the next year, before we meet again in Europe next summer, and are already highly connected on social media and using online resources to begin our work in earnest.

The craziest thing is, I think this group of people could actually change the world.  They’re diverse and motivated and open and thoughtful, and FULL of great ideas about how to make things better.  More importantly, they’re not just full of ideas, but further the drive and commitment to implement those ideas.

So as sad as I was to leave, and as hard as it is to describe, I hope I’ve done justice to the energy and power of this network. Throughout the week, we came to know and share more about not just what we do, but who we are, individually and collectively. I’ll paraphrase another TN2020 friend, Regina O’Connor (an Irish author and political advisor to the European Parliament) who mused “if we could bottle the energy between us on the last night of the conference… we could solve all the world’s problems with just that!” Though we may not be able to “bottle” our last week in Chicago, we do promise to turn this powerful experience into something exponentially more powerful for our communities, and our world.

TN2020 Members at the Signature Lounge - Hancock Building, Chicago