Looking Ahead to the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland

As the train rushes through the crisp Connecticut spring towards New York City I have to pinch myself: am I really going to Switzerland?

May 7, 2014

With graduation a mere two weeks away, I could not think of a better way to close my tenure at the Yale School of Management than by attending the St. Gallen Symposium.

When I started my MBA almost two years ago, Yale SOM promised me an international education. The promise seemed believable enough: with its global status, international student body, world-renowned faculty and the recently established Global Network, I knew I would be exposed to diverse ideas and cultures. However, my expectations fell short of reality, as these past twenty months showed me that the true value of an international education is in robust dialogue, not merely coexistence.

That dialogue extended well beyond Yale SOM’s campus. First, there was the International Experience. In two unforgettable weeks in Indonesia, I met top government officials, executives, entrepreneurs and students. I visited factories, orangutan sanctuaries and coalmines throughout Kalimantan, and relished the bustling energy of Jakarta, a symbol of Indonesia’s ascent as an emerging, youthful and stable place, striving to reorient its economy from resource exploitation to a position of higher value in the global supply chain.

Then, there was Brazil: as a teaching assistant to the International Experience visit to that country, I was immersed in its opportunities and challenges. Its dynamic economy, the passion of its soccer matches, the warmth of its people, its natural beauty and abundant resources made Brazil ever interesting. From better educating its youth to strengthening the country’s position in technology development, Brazil’s leaders are aware of the infrastructure and human capital needs of the nation. That some of the world’s largest companies are deeply committed to creating value in the region is a testament to its potential.

Now, there will be Switzerland.

When the Yale SOM Leadership Development Program introduced the St. Gallen Symposium and its related “Wings of Excellence” essay competition to our class, I knew I had to apply. The University of St. Gallen, one of the leading business schools in Europe, has high aspirations: to be recognized as one of the global centers of thought leadership in business, economics, law and the social sciences. This vision has led to the development of the St. Gallen Symposium, now in its 44th edition. Every year, graduate students from around the globe apply for its essay competition, and the top 100 entries gain admittance to the event, as part of its “Leaders of Tomorrow” cohort.

The students join the “Leaders of Today,” a stellar line-up of executives, government officials, scholars and community leaders, in a gathering to explore some of the most pressing issues of the day. This year, the conference will be inspired by “The Clash of Generations,” a storyline of stretched welfare states, unaffordable pension schemes and social solidarity increasingly under pressure.

 In the words of the Symposium, cohesion within a society has a lot to do with how much the different generations have a say in de­ciding on the allocation of resources, rights and benefits. When politics is in the hands of the few and decision-making is a privilege of the older generations, cohesion is at risk (Cluster A: Balancing Generational Claims).

The last decades have been a time of incredible wealth creation across generations and classes, and consumption and technology are reaching the historically poorest of the world. And yet, it is up to a younger generation to take stock of the last decades and assess this heritage in the light of its own ambitions and values (Cluster B: A Double-Edged Legacy).

With the “arc of unemployment” spanning from the south of Europe into the Arabian world towards South Asia, the problem of youth unemployment has reached global scale. Faced with the real danger of social unrest on a large scale, both old and young nations have to find a compelling answer to the same immediate challenge: how to provide their young people with an encouraging perspective (Cluster C: A Prospect For The Young)?

The business world uniquely reflects and absorbs trends that affect society as a whole. With young people aspiring to more responsibility, they are changing the way business is conducted. How do old and new business models correlate or interact over time? What is the future of the “shared economy”(Cluster D: Business Between Generations)?

The Yale SOM community prepared me well for this week of relevant dialogue. I look forward to expanding its reach to the Alps, and to the global friendships I will bring home with me. 

About the author

Priscila Bala

Internship: Barclays