2015 GCC Roundup: The best one yet!
Last month, around 100 fellows, educators, speakers and friends of the Melton Foundation gathered for the 2015 Global Citizenship Conference (GCC) in Hangzhou, China, a week-long event which brings students and professionals from 6 countries together to learn from one another, collaborate on projects and turn ideas into concrete action.
This year’s GCC was a very special one. The main reason for that was the participation of the very first batch of fellows from the newest member of the Melton Foundation network: Ghana’s Ashesi University. The fellows’ warm welcome of the Ghanaian delegation and their enthusiasm were clearly visible in all group activities.
Our Chinese hosts made sure that all Fellows made the most out of their experience. From the morning Tai-Chi lessons, given by a seasoned local master, to the evening’s cultural presentations, which included traditional music and dance, the fellows were able to immerse themselves in Chinese culture and learn more about this ancient civilization. The local field trips also provided insight into the Chinese educational system, its green businesses and sustainable initiatives.
But it wasn’t all just fun and games: the fellows had an intense week of learning in workshops and sessions covering topics ranging from Global Citizenship Education to Design Thinking, and exchanged best practices during the Project Showcase. This year’s participants of the Idea Incubator made their first pitches at the conference; they included a workout-powered generator and an app that allows consumers to calculate their food’s carbon footprint.
This year, the fellows paid special attention to the GCC’s sustainability and kicked off the Green GCC campaign, challenging all attendees to carry their own water bottles, avoid using the elevator, take shorter showers and reuse their towels, and more.
The highlight of the week came through the 2015 Springboard Sessions, with four Asian speakers providing a non-Western take on topics such as education, philanthropy, global business ethics and corporate social responsibility (CSR).
Hong Gang, CEO of one of China’s top green packaging companies, spoke of applying the concept of global citizenship to the business world. “I do not believe in a split personality between private and business life,” he said. “Most rules about citizenship for individuals apply to the business as well. Unfortunately, nowadays, we see many socially irresponsible enterprises running sweat shops, exploiting child labor, polluting the environment and evading taxes. And often, more embarrassingly, they may all of sudden start making donations to schools in Tibet, planting trees in Mongolia, and putting up some solar panels on their roof, all using CSR as marketing gimmicks.”
Jacob Tomas, a CSR consultant, built upon Hong Gang’s idea, saying that companies cannot simply give away their money and call it CSR. “CSR is not a checklist, it’s not something you have to sacrifice for, it’s not a donation,” he said. “It is, however, a new angle to look at in your business. It is using your business insight to create social value.” Jacob explained CSR is not only for top company executives, but every employee can be engaged with it as well. “Use your skills to help people and engage with your employer,” he told the audience. “Next time someone asks what you can do, you can say: ‘I’m a banker who can help kids learn basic financial skills’, ‘I’m a programmer who can use the internet to help remote places to access information’, ‘I’m a designer who can design obstacle-free facilities for the disabled.’”
Jasmine Lau, Yale graduate and founder of Philanthropy in Motion (PIM), warned fellows that, even when they intend to do good, they have to be careful about the long-term impact of your actions. She called them to practice philanthropy instead of charity, saying philanthropy is a way to “do good better”.“I noticed that young Chinese people are incredibly passionate about social issues, but to them philanthropy is something that is far away, they think a philanthropist is someone like Bill Gates or Jack Ma, rich or at a mature stage in that career,” Lau said. “But we thought that doesn’t have to be the case, and we wanted to prove young people can be philanthropists too. Individually we may not have as many resources, but pooling together, we could make a difference.”
Mustafa Naseem, founding Director of Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL), talked about the purpose of a great education, and what it takes to empower changemakers, citing his own experience working in Pakistan. “If you look at what happens when MIT students graduate, they not only believe in their future, but they believe they have the skills, tools and resources to tackle some of the greatest challenges faced by us on earth, whether it is the cure for cancer or eradicating extreme poverty,” he said. “I believe it is this belief that a great education instills in its students that separates it from a good education.”
And, to close the conference, each fellow used the impulses and skills they gained from the previous sessions to design an act for the 100 Acts of Global Citizenship campaign. This year, fellows designed many inspiring, innovative and thought-provoking acts covering a wide variety of areas – from sustainability, education, and gender equality to technology, poverty alleviation, and sex education. Fellows will set up art installations to call awareness to slave labor, give self-defense workshops in schools, start a training program for girls in math and science, and much more. Stay tuned for details!
All in all, the conference was a huge success and showed the kind of synergy the fellows are capable of when they come together. We at the Melton Foundation are excited to see the projects and initiatives that will grow from this year’s conference.