Salzburg Global Launches Inaugural Young Cultural Innovators Session

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Oct 30, 2014
by Jonathan Elbaz
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Salzburg Global Launches Inaugural Young Cultural Innovators Session

Fifty young leaders spark ten-year social entrepreneurship project   The YCI Fellows and faculty on the Schloss terrace.

At most sessions, Fellows spend the last day reflecting on the previous week and saying goodbye to other participants. But the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI) is unlike most sessions. Instead of reviews and farewells, the last day was spent plotting for the future.

The delegation from Baltimore, Maryland made plans to meet up when they were stateside to talk more about collaborating. Fellows from Athens, Greece outlined plans to lobby their government to enact new cultural policy. Though the five-day session was over, the partnerships were just beginning. 

That’s because YCI is structured differently than most core sessions. The gathering last week at Schloss Leopoldskron was just the inaugural meeting in a decade-long project, which will catalyze social entrepreneurship by connecting cultural innovators in cities around the world.

Each year, Salzburg Global will bring new young leaders from approximately ten cultural hubs—cities like Rotterdam, Netherlands and Phnom Penh, Cambodia—and provide them the opportunity to develop their vision, entrepreneurial skills, and global networks needed to advance their causes and communities.

After each session, the Fellows will return home to collaborate with members of the YCI network in their cities. That’s where the real magic will begin.

The first class of young cultural innovators

The initial YCI session October 18-23 gathered a diverse group of young leaders. Artists, event planners, non-profit founders, researchers, curators and government officials were present at the Schloss for five days of lectures, discussions, and workshops.

The scope of Fellows’ projects was vast. Dara Huot of Cambodia runs a circus that employs disadvantaged children. Arthur Steiner of the Netherlands helps build creative co-working spaces in the Middle East. Brooke Hall of the U.S. runs a creative agency and is planning a wide-scale lights festival to illuminate the city of Baltimore in 2016.

The first days focused on broad thematic questions, such as who are we, what are our roles, and what entrepreneurial landscape do we exist in? ImpactHub founder Jonathan Robinson proposed that we introduce a new profession to the lexicon: the “convener,” who is the social entrepreneur who brings people together. These are innovators who have the knowledge, network and resources to utilize human creativity to solve the world’s most pressing problems.

The Fellows elaborated on this idea of the “convener” on the second day of the session. As the afternoon sunlight faded, the studio spotlights came on, and Robinson hosted a parody version of BBC’s “HARDTalk,” complete with a “live” studio audience and a team manning the call-in phones. The discussion served as an opportunity to survey the diversity of missions and to display much of the significant work the Fellows are involved in.

After plenary discussions each morning, Fellows split into smaller groups for intimate conversations. Later each day, they participated in interactive skills workshops about entrepreneurial thinking, storytelling, technology and leadership. These were intense two-hour workshops—led by Sam Conniff, Didi Hopkins, Fiddian Warman and Amina Dickerson, respectively—that focused on teaching young leaders to be better planners, communicators and managers.

One fundamental question that arose during the session was about how to address the systemic challenges to social entrepreneurship specific to each country. Fellows from Baltimore have vastly different capabilities in enacting social change than the Greek Fellows, who spoke about the lack of cultural policy in their country and the immense difficulties in rallying forces for change.

But despite the differing challenges each hub faces, there was common ground in the knowledge that in each city, there now existed a network of young, passionate leaders who could begin tackling big social and cultural projects. As YCI Fellow Claire Power reflected, one of her big takeaways was witnessing the international solidarity of young innovators in the arts, culture and creative economies. Though the session was over, the collaboration would endure.