Volkswagen Magazine

THINK AHEAD

a true coup.

Young people from all across the globe come together for the One Young World Summit in Dublin to discuss their future and to break through the barriers of conventional thought. One participant gave us a personal report.

Text Tin Fischer
Photos Olivier Hess

“We really need you!” the workshop leader tells me as I add my email address to the list. They want to contact me soon for an “Innovation Challenge” in Boston. I’m no inventor, but who knows? Maybe I could make a contribution toward traffic safety in future. And only because of these transmitting cows. But more on that later.

The summit meeting One Young World brings together young people from nations all over the world every year to think about the future of the planet. The first summit took place four years ago in London. This time the host city is Dublin, where the summit takes place in an impressive conference centre on the banks of the Liffey. Last year it was in Johannesburg, next year’s location is Bangkok. Over the course of four days, well-known personalities such as Kofi Annan or Bob Geldof give talks on climate change, human rights, social justice and corporate responsibility. In between young political activists, social enterprises and employees of the participating companies present projects.

“Are you the one, the future leader?”, asks Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and now UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, at the opening ceremony. National flags are waving, and Coldplay’s “I used to rule the world” anthem can be heard. Am I the one? Will I lead the world in some way tomorrow? I don’t know, but at this event we are supposed to shatter the boundaries of conventional thinking – and who knows what sort of ideas we will come up with.

Author Tin, enlightened? There were definitely lots of good ideas.
Mary Robinson appeals to the young attendees’ ideals.

» Are you the one, the future leader? «

Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy for Climate Change

Right now I’m talking to a young woman from Uruguay about…well, cows, actually. Victoria Alonsoperez doesn’t look at all like someone whose profession is related to agriculture. She is wearing a black blazer, red lipstick and high-heeled shoes in tiger print design. She studied electrical and aviation engineering at university. The 26-year-old was introduced on the stage of the “One Young World” Summit by Alejandro Toledo, the former President of Peru. He entreated her not to migrate to Silicon Valley, but to stay true to her South American homeland.

Not that the request was necessary: “Our customers are in Uruguay”, Victoria says. Her start-up wants to introduce GPS sensors for cattle into the market. Unlike Europe or the US, cattle in South America are free-roaming, and they are frequently spread across thousands of square miles of land. Finding them again is often difficult. Cattle theft is also a problem. Being able to locate them digitally would be a huge advantage. In addition, recording their movement profile and body temperature would allow earlier recognition of illness and epidemics. “We are working with the university and currently testing the business model. Two ranchers are applying the system”, Victoria explains, showing images of the prototypes hanging around the animals’ necks on her laptop. She has already won the ITU Telecom World Young Innovators Competition for the system and wants to bring it to market soon. Right now she is waiting for the first delivery from China.

Victoria Alonsoperez’s idea: GPS chips for cattle.

The idea is probably still lurking around in my subconscious when I go to the Volkswagen workshop the next day. The topic: sustainable mobility in what are known as “emerging markets” – countries such as India aspiring to become developed markets. It is the second time Volkswagen is a Summit partner. Its hope is that the event will bring as much forward-looking energy to the Group as possible for the company’s future. “To us One Young World is an opportunity to meet young people from NGOs or in politics and listen to them. What is expected of us as a corporation?” says Barbara Lamprecht, responsible for the brand and marketing strategy of Volkswagen cars.

Bernhard Walther starts things off by introducing his project, which he developed in the Gründer-Garage für Soziales Unternehmertum, an organisation that fosters young entrepreneurs and innovative ideas. “I lived in Namibia and saw that people had to spend half their income on taxis”, explains the 29-year-old. His idea is to retrofit regular bicycles and turn them into e-bikes using simple, solar-powered electrical motor construction kits. “It is inexpensive and gives the bicycle – considered the poor people’s transport in Namibia – a cool image”, says Bernhard, who works in a co-working space in Wolfsburg. During a workshop break he lets me try a prototype of his bicycles. I dash across the sail-shaped Samuel Beckett Bridge in front of the conference centre. The electric motor doubles the speed or halves the required energy expenditure, Bernhard promises.

» With solar energy this bicycle is as fast as a moped. That is a glaring hole in sunny Namibia’s market. «

Bernhard Walther, engineer

It is a standard bicycle. Bernhard simply replaced the front tyre with a motorised one, put a rechargeable battery in the bottle holder, and mounted a solar collector on the luggage rack. “This type of retrofitting is not allowed in Germany; e-bikes have to be made from a single mould”, says Bernhard, “which just makes them needlessly expensive.” The motor kit saves money – crucial in Africa.

Bernhard went to Namibia on an internship with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ – a government organisation for international cooperation). He sees the country as a potential e-bike mecca: “The capital Windhoek is actually too hot and too steep for normal bicycles. But they have non-stop sunshine and already a few NGOs that distribute bicycles.” He doesn’t want to give them away, though, and means to sell them on an instalment plan. “It’s the only way to make it sustainable”, in Bernhard’s opinion. He sees students who often have to commute 12 to 18 miles as possible customers.
Commuting appears to strike a chord with many in the ensuing brainstorming session. “I’m often stuck in traffic for hours”, a student from Bangladesh says, “sometimes I even miss exams.”

She is thinking about whether people like her should simply get a lift with someone else to reduce traffic density. “But you never know whose car you are getting into and which areas he’ll be driving through,” says a female participant from India who works for Google, offering some food for thought. Her proposal is to organise searches for reliable drivers via social networks.
“Breaking through the limitations of conventional thinking” – those words keep circling around my brain. And while the group discusses whether and how a driver can be judged on how he drives through which areas via Twitter, I allow my thoughts to float from this concentrated input to free association, and escape rainy Dublin to be carried along by a daydream. I find myself in New Delhi, feeling way too hot. Not that I have ever been there, but now I see myself sitting in a car driven by @CrazyRajiv83, the driver I met through an as-yet-to-be-developed car-sharing platform.

Exploring ideas is more important than contentious discussion.
Indians plagued by traffic congestion want to make car-sharing safer via Twitter.
A new generation of international talent brainstorms. Then they post using analogue and digital media.

But crazy Rajiv doesn’t just lean on the horn often and long, he also loves to put the pedal to the metal while racing through the narrow streets of the huge city, listening to overwrought Indian pop music. I’m desperately clutching the seat and sweating profusely. I attempt to tweet a warning about never accepting a ride with @CrazyRajiv83. His driving style, though, generates so much centrifugal force that my thumb keeps sliding off the cell phone. Rajiv tucks into a curve with screeching tyres, and then comes to an even louder screeching full stop! “What is the matter?” I shout. Rajiv points at the street in front of us. A cow is standing in the middle of the road and obviously has no intention of moving. That’s right, aren’t the cows here sacred? I examine the animal more closely. Is it wearing one of Victoria’s sensors?
Suddenly I hear myself railing at Rajiv: “Why aren’t YOU wearing a sensor like that? Then we would all know by now that you are a driver from hell and I wouldn’t even have to bother tweeting you!” Rajiv shrugs his shoulders and whips out his cell phone in order to find a route around the cow. “Rajiv has been wearing a sensor for a long time!”, I realise, approaching enlightenment.

As I emerge from the daydream, the other workshop participants are already presenting their results on the flipcharts. One group wants to transfer the idea of micro-loans to mobility, i.e. instead of financing individuals, large numbers of people would finance the insurance for a car through mini-amounts. I like it. Another group wants to build modular cars that grow to a certain degree and are constantly changing as you both get older. I like that idea, too. One participant proposes a “Falling Elvis” for the dashboard, a type of nodding dog in Elvis Presley form for learner drivers, so that they can develop a feeling for acceleration and braking. That idea appeals to me as well, even if in Rajiv’s case, this Elvis would be mostly lying down and scarcely able to show off its educational merits.
The summit recommences after a few evening detours to local pubs and breweries. For the sake of accuracy, it should be said that One Young World is not a conference where contentious discussions take place. It is intended to inspire. The originator of microloans and Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus is quietly lecturing about fair economies, almost in the manner of an imam. Some people in the audience have tears in their eyes as a young woman tells of her flight from North Korea and everything her family had to endure in the process – her father’s imprisonment, her mother’s rape, the propaganda about executions and the grass they had to eat to survive while her father was incarcerated.

» In my native country no one may say what they think or what they want. «

Yeonmi Park, North Korea

Then things get technical again. I attend a workshop on the topic of traffic safety organised by a large brewing company. We are supposed to collect ideas to make drivers safer. Drinking beer and then driving off is still a global problem, especially among 15 to 30-year-olds. Or using smartphones at the wheel: many an accident occurs while texting. “An app that switches the phone to mute as soon as you get into the car,” one group proposes. I think it’s a good idea. But then I have to think of Rajiv again. Would that have really helped him? I
think of Victoria’s cows. Why shouldn’t something work with Rajiv that works with cattle? I ask if this app couldn’t also record the driving behaviour at the same time? How fast are you driving? How calmly or hectically? Is the driver really fit to drive? Similar apps already exist. But what if they can also determine if Rajiv is either mad or tipsy, and that he drives through unsafe areas? And enter this information right onto the Indian car-sharing platform?
“Splendid idea!” says a person in the group, and approving nods also come
from the podium. Thus things run their course. During these four days, on my journey to the limits of my thoughts, I listened with keen interest to stories about cattle, epidemics, commuting and e-bikes. And now we have it: a nebulous idea that started with cows and ended at drivers via India without knowing if it will come to an abrupt stop at the next dead end, like Rajiv’s car trip from hell, or lead to a glorious future. Will it make a future leader out of me? I have no clue. But for now I have put myself onto the email address list for the Innovation Challenge.

Summit for original thinkers

One Young World provides people between 18 and 30 with a forum to exchange ideas and build networks. The global forum was founded by the English entrepreneurs David Jones and Kate Robertson in 2009. The conference today is second only to the Olympic Games in size, with more than 1,300 participants from 190 countries. Volkswagen has been a summit partner since 2013.

 

The exchange of ideas on current challenges and their solutions inspires the attendees to think about the future and beyond together: Volkswagen employees carry the ideas about sustainability, Think Blue. The opportunity to develop these ideas and apply them to their daily work brings their experiences as ambassadors of “One Young World” to life at Volkswagen.