10 Break-Out Sessions

  • Time: 3:30 pm - 4:30 pm

A Demographic Revolution: Young India Takes Charge (with All India Management Association)
Ritesh Agarwal, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, OYO Rooms
Pranjal Sharma (Topic Leader), Economic Analyst, Advisor and Author, India

India is undergoing its economic, technological and demographic transition simultaneously. An old country is becoming youthful and adventurous with the passage of time. Young Indians like OYO founder Ritesh Agarwal are quietly taking charge of Indian ethos by becoming icons of audacious aspirations and tangible proofs of its potential, spawning startups that are becoming most valuable and famous than many legacy companies. How can young revolutionaries find ways to carry the older generation of investors, regulators, workers and consumers with them and what can other economies and founders learn from India’s momentous transition?

Collaborative Advantage Across Generations: Reflecting on the SGS Experience (ISC Alumni)
Former Members of the International Students' Comittee
Christoph Loos (Topic Leader), Chief ­Executive ­Offi­cer, Hilti AG
Vivian Bernet (Topic Leader), Head of the Organising Committe, International Students' Comittee
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For over 50 years teams of student have volunteered to organise the St. Gallen Symposium. They have written countless invitations, met thousands of partners, and welcomed some of the most important personalities of their time on stage. Together with former members of the ISC we will reflect on the St. Gallen Symposium experience of cross-generational dialogue and collaboration, the lessons they have learned for their lives and on how the symposium has evolved. This session is organised together with ISC Alumni.

Collective Genius? Cultivating Creativity in the Arts and Beyond
Susan Goldsworthy, Affiliate Professor of Leadership, Communications and Organizational Change, IMD Business School
Gerry Hofstetter, Light Artist & Film Producer Hofstetter Marketing
Javiera Estrada, Artist
Tatjana Rupp (Topic Leader), Member of the International Students' Committee

As the need for innovation is growing, the routinisation of well-structured creative processes within organizations is key for concurrent value creation. Prof. Susan Goldsworthy of IMD, this year's St. Gallen Symposium artist Javiera Estrada and Light Artist Gerry Hofstetter will discuss the role of collaboration in the creative process. Together, and in conversation with the audience, they’ll explore the way collaboration can drive creativity in various organisational contexts, and, on the other hand, the role of introversion and lone contemplation in creating something new.

Connecting Business with Purpose: The Potential of Skills-Based Volunteering
Curdin Duschletta, Head Community Impact Switzerland & Foundations, UBS
Christopher Jarvis, Executive Director, RWInstitute
Prof. Amanda Shantz (Topic Leader), MBA Director and Professor of Management, University of St.Gallen

Many employee volunteering and giving programs are presented as an employee perk, similar to casual Fridays or a team-building event. But treating workplace giving and volunteering this way fails to fully capitalise on the great potential of such programs: to foster employee personal growth, and address key societal challenges. The panel will particularly explore the potential of skills-based volunteering, its benefits, and the unique challenges that arise when moving from merely transactional volunteering to something far more transformative.

Financing the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs
Patrick Zhong, Founding Managing Partner, M31 Capital
Makram Azar, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Full Circle Capital
Prof. Julia Binder (Topic Leader), Professor of Sustainable Innovation and Business Transformation, IMD Business School

The investment landscape over the next twenty years will be radically different from previous generations. While there appears to be greater access to capital, there also appears to be much more volatility and debt with no clear dominant financing mechanism. Entrepreneurs, VC, Private Equity, and banks will have to find new ways to work together to create growth and stimulate innovation. How can investors and entrepreneurs better collaborate and find mutually beneficial agreements that balance risk and return?

Hacking the Fashion & Luxury Watchmaking Industry towards more Sustainability (with Condé Nast College)
Martina Bonnier, Editor-In-Chief, Vogue Scandinavia
Raynald Aeschlimann, President and CEO, Omega S.A
Carmen Jenny, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, CLOTHESfriends AG
Johannes Reponen (Topic Leader), Director of Post-Graduate Programmes; Academic Affairs; Research & Knowledge Exchange, Condé Nast College

The fashion industry accounts for 10% of humanity’s annual carbon emissions – more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined. For long, the fashion and luxury watchmaking industry drove, together with the fashion media industry, unsustainable dynamics in the sector: generating more and more demand through an artificial cycle of new collections and seasonal trends. Businesses’ marketing, media as well as influencers thereby create a constant longing and demand for their products. How can designers, fashion houses and publishers exit this vicious cycle and, collaboratively, drive the transition towards more sustainable and ethical fashion and luxury watchmaking?

M100 Sanssouci Colloquium@St. Gallen: Media’s New Power: More Impact Through Collaborative Journalism
Mathias Müller von Blumencron, Journalist, Member of the Board, Tagesanzeiger and Advisory Board Member M100 Sanssouci Colloquium
Joanna Krawczyk, Chairwoman, Leading European Newspaper Alliance
Paul Radu, Investigative Journalist, Co-Founder OCCRP
Astrid Frohloff (Topic Leader), TV Presenter and Journalist, Advisory Board Member M100 Sanssouci Colloquium

Media diversity, freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Europe are currently under threat. Journalists and independent media companies are increasingly joining forces across borders to respond to such challenges as well as to be able to continue to offer independent quality journalism in the future. This session will identify learnings from new media partnerships such as the Leading European Newspaper Alliance (LENA) and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) to identify how media can most effectively work together.

Democratizing Access to the next Generation of Technology and Innovation: Communities and Radical Transformation
Gina Loften, Member of the Board of Trustees, TIAA
Luzius Meisser, Chairman, Bitcoin Suisse
Tycho Onnasch, General Manager, Trust Machines
Shuo Chen (Topic Leader), General Partner, IOVC

Technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship are key drivers of the modern economy and social mobility. Given their importance, we should strive to improve accessibility to tech, education and entrepreneurship across all backgrounds. Creating open and inclusive communities, especially with tech is important to accomplishing this goal, but it is easier said that done. Simultaneously, a third iteration of the internet – Web3 – has the potential to radically transform the internet of things and reduce barriers to access. How can these forces be effectively harnessed and directed for the benefit of all people and move the world forward?

Varieties of Tech Capitalism: Europe's Approach to Innovation and Regulation in a Global Context
Julian Teicke, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, wefox
Lisa-Marie Fassl, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Female Founders
Christoph Keese (Topic Leader), Managing Partner and Chief Executive Officer, hy

Over the past decades, the tech sector, especially the internet of things, has become a central component of modern economies. Trying to catch up with the exponential pace of technological development, the US, China, and Europe are crafting rules of the game on digital markets. What are the emerging characteristic differences between regulatory regimes of digital markets, in the US, Europe and beyond, and how do they balance innovation and regulation? In light of strategic competition over tech dominance between the US and China, what are the opportunities and challenges for Europe in particular?

Changed for Good? Engaging with the New World of Work
Petra von Strombeck, Chief Executive Officer, New Work SE
Jean-Christophe Deslarzes, Chair of the Board, Adecco Group
Nat Ware, Founder & CEO Forte
Prof. Heike Bruch (Topic Leader), Director, Institute for Leadership and Human Resources Management, University of St. Gallen
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The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the world of work forever. The fast and widespread adoption of remote work and an ever-increasing concern of employees with purpose and meaning on their job have intensified the war for talents. Reaching out to and concurrently engaging employees is key for businesses across sectors and regions. What learnings can be drawn from the pandemic as regards our approach to work? Has the world of work changed for the better? And what role does leadership culture and a new approach to hiring play going forward?

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Freedom and Climate Change: Acting Now to Retain Future Options

Instead of viewing freedom as a free pass to ‘do whatever we want’ without considering the consequence of our actions, climate change challenges us to shift our perspective to become more inclusive. Here, according to Professor Judith Walls, we have a choice to make: we either view such a shift with the dread of being constrained, or we view it as an opportunity for transformation.

In an impassioned speech to the United Nations Climate Action Summit this year, Greta Thunberg charged the world’s leaders with stealing her dreams and her childhood by pretending that business-as usual, technological progress, and “fairy tales of eternal economic growth” could solve Mass Extinction and the climate crisis. “And yet,” she said, “I’m one of the lucky ones”.

Greta’s arguments focused on sustainable development, classically defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But the undertones of her speech were also about freedom. 

At first glance, notions of “freedom” seem to counter priorities set for sustainability because in order for sustainable development to happen, some activities – especially among the wealthier nations (the lucky ones) – must be constrained. Whereas freedom, some might say, is being able to do whatever we want. Freedom is about having free will; freedom is having a choice, without undue or unjust constraints.

Perhaps. But the key here is whether we think of freedom as an individual prerogative, or a collective right. Shifting the lens slightly, we might argue that if “doing whatever we want” (as individuals) creates injustices, inequality, and takes away choice (at the collective), then can we really say that we are free?

For example, while economically speaking we have certainly “developed”, a recent update on the Sustainable Development Goals shines a spotlight on how far behind we are in terms of sustainable production and consumption and the negative impact of human activity on the natural environment. There has been some progress, but even within countries we observe rising income inequality, including in the US and Europe, and disparities in access to healthcare and education. Imbalances are also widespread at international levels: the top 10 per cent of carbon dioxide emitters are responsible for 45 per cent of global emissions, while the bottom 50 per cent of emitters contribute only 13 per cent to global emissions. Yet, those at the lowest level of income face the greatest consequences from environmental degradation and biodiversity loss.

Towards a more inclusive perception of freedom

Our impact on the world is now so vast, that it is starting to constrain people’s freedom. Our development has not been sustainable, and now we face a global commons problem. And we can see its negative effects: on the next generation, who have no voting rights but whose future options are being infringed upon because they are going to have to deal with the fallout; on the global South who have been exploited for their natural and human resources, but lack the wealth to address rising sea levels, storms, flooding and fires, and who are being displaced from their homes; on the rural dwellers whose lands are rapidly becoming deserts making it alarmingly difficult to yield food; and, on all the non-human species that are facing mass extinction.

The infringement on others’ freedom is so profound, that sustainability is not only a social and environmental problem, it has now become a moral one. In the Era of the Anthropocene, in which humans have become a force large enough to effect change in the Earth’s natural systems, only collective action can save us. “We are all members of the same species that is threatened by the challenges of the Anthropocene,” says Professor Andrew Hoffman. “We are in this together.”

Climate change and other sustainability problems therefore, compel us to change our perception of freedom.

Let me give an example. Many of us might consider air travel a modern “freedom”. But air travel carries high greenhouse gas emissions. And this freedom is about to be impinged in some countries. The upper house of the Swiss Parliament for instance recently endorsed a plan to tax fuel on flights. The cost to the consumer may be as much as CHF120 for commercial flights and up to CHF500 for private jets. The goal is to reduce the number of economy class passenger travel within Europe (driving traffic towards trains instead). These added costs are quite substantial considering a flight from Zurich to Amsterdam can be as low as CHF99. The question is, who will be affected the most? The impacts of such policies will have a disproportional effect on those with lower incomes, and younger generations, who lose the freedom to go wherever they want, whenever they want to.

Specifically, three types of imbalances compel us to shift our perception of freedom: (i) the relationship between generations, (ii) the relationship between economic classes, and (iii) the relationship between humans and nature. In the pursuit of freedom, our actions have impacted the world around us to the extent that others freedoms have been encroached, which has created more injustice, more inequity, than there was before.

Instead of viewing freedom as a free pass to ‘do whatever we want’ without considering the consequence of our actions, we need to shift our perspective to become more inclusive. Here, we have a choice to make: we either view such a shift with the dread of being constrained, or we view it as an opportunity for transformation.

And, if transformation is the path we wish to pursue, we need to put in some real elbow grease.

Should we let business lead the way towards sustainability?
Redefining what it means to be human

One problem with the science on climate change is that, well, it focuses on the science. Professor Mike Hulme argues that our predictions of the impact that climate change will have are reductionist. We have a tendency to simplify. To find almost linear cause-and-effect arguments. This type of thinking could be dangerous because climate change is complicated, and so is the human relationship to nature, as is humans’ future response to climate change.

The issue is that, although we have entered the Era of the Anthropocene, the age of humans, we are not just a world of humans. During the Age of Enlightenment, thought leaders praised our ability to control the world around us, and set ourselves apart from other species. Several centuries later, it has become blatantly clear that humans do not stand apart from nature; rather we are a part of nature. Professor Dipesh Chakrabarty contends that we can no longer expect human history to travel along a separate trajectory than natural history.

We urgently need to reconnect ourselves with nature. We need to place nature front and center in our culture and value systems, even hold it sacred because we are intimately intertwined with it. 

This doesn’t mean that we only focus on apocalyptic scenarios of the climate crisis. Yes, there is no avoiding climate change at this point. Yes, climate change is complicated. It is layered, subtle, and is on a trajectory that is difficult to reverse. It takes place at a scale that we cannot easily comprehend; we literally are unable to see the forest for the trees. And we are so far down this path that mitigating actions alone will not be enough if we want to maintain our freedoms.

Adaptation is our only option, and we will. The human species is ingenious and we have the capacity to evolve. Instead of only viewing the climate crisis as a means for loss of freedom, we can view it as an opportunity for transformation. We can build a stronger sense of community and responsibility and learn to place value on our collective freedom. We can redefine what it means to be human.

Redefining humanity means cultural transformation. It’s a cultural shift of our behavior and values on which we can pin our hopes – and hope is needed to inspire us as a collective to take action. If we don’t want constraints imposed on us, then we must act now in order to ensure that our future has options.

The power and responsibility of business

This is where business leaders can play a vital role. Business leaders play a huge role in transformation for sustainability and helping to preserve our freedom. Business is a global force: it transcends national boundaries, it has resources larger than many nation-states, it produces almost every aspect of our lives from mobility to energy and what we wear and eat. Corporations, in fact, are so powerful that in most places they have superseded the power of both the Church (religion) and the State (government). Our future is, quite literally, in the hands of business.

Business leaders have the power to be agents of change. With that power, also comes an obligation to shoulder the responsibilities. Because in the end, climate change will affect all of us.

Rarely can there be gain without loss. Gaining future freedom requires some trade-offs today. We must get comfortable with this idea and engage in paradoxical thinking that offers a new perspective on sustainability topics like climate change. We can simultaneously consider the world as it is today and how we want it to be in the future. This requires trade-offs that we are capable of making. We can deal with complexities.

We need business leaders to be the pioneers. Early explorers. The brave of heart and mind. The courageous. The trailblazers.

We also need to put in the hard work. There is a German word I like: ‘hartnäckig’—the tenacious, dogged, and obdurate. Perseverance, in the face of adversity. It took us 250 years to get ourselves into this mess. It began with the Industrial Revolution and accelerated greatly after Second World War. It’s going to take a while to get ourselves out of this mess we created. For that, we need true leaders. Leaders who can hold on to a new vision of our future that considers the collective and follow through. Leaders who carry others with them. Leaders who will take calculated risks. Leaders who will push the boundaries, try new things, and not be afraid to admit mistakes. Leaders who can adopt a paradoxical mindset. It was President Abraham Lincoln who said, “the best way to predict your future is to create it.”

We need a cultural revolution in business that is rooted in “purpose”. We can only solve this problem if business is a major part of the solution. But we need new ways of doing business. We need business leaders to rethink their companies as part of a whole, a circular economy. We need business leaders to help us quit bad habits. We need business leaders to redefine what it means to be human.

Only then will we be able to achieve freedom in the context of sustainability.

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