How did I find myself at an invitation-only event that included President Donald Trump, Chancellor Angela Merkel, Christine Lagarde, Satya Nadella, and Greta Thunberg? The answer, in all honesty, is simple: passion + the power of networks + unqualified support of my Booth community.
As billionaires and elites from across the world started to arrive on their private jets for the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, I took the other scenic route. I wrapped up my classes and summer internship interviews, rushed home to pack my bags, flew to Zurich, and found myself on a train to Davos. It was hard to contain my excitement—I definitely didn’t see this coming when I found myself at Harper Center in September.
The annual convening in Davos brings together over 3,000 business leaders, politicians, academicians, social entrepreneurs, NGOs, and others for conversations on relevant key global issues. The theme of 2020 was ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,’ and the discussions were split across seven key themes: Beyond Geopolitics, Society & the Future of Work, Better Business, Healthy Futures, Tech for Good, Fairer Economics, and How to Save the Planet.
With a background in Sociology and a deep belief in quality education as the foundation of social and economic wellbeing, I have proactively engaged in the education sector. This interest has fueled my curiosity to learn from and support people who are changing the status quo in education. One such conversation matured into an invitation to attend the “Education for Transformation” program at WEF. To extend invitations, WEF’s organizers tap into their networks to ensure a rich and diverse group of leaders and global shapers. Apart from referrals from internal networks, they look for past records of success in terms of leading an organization, supporting organizations, and affiliations with leading institutions in sustainability and development. They seek entrepreneurs, investors, students, and corporates who have made a significant impact and have stories that help sustain a meaningful dialogue. And, lastly, WEF looks at the intent to participate in the impact space via current positions and future plans.
While humbled, I didn’t quite know where to start. So, of course, I wrote to Dean Kole requesting her support for this (ad)venture. Dean Kole, in her iconic style (which you will soon learn), was encouraging but reminded me of my priorities: classes! Fortunately, all of my professors appreciated this unique out-of-the-classroom opportunity and helped work out catch-up plans.
The support did not end there. I have the honor of being the first recipient of an alumni-created fund for enriching the learning experience of MBA students, with the expectation that I: a.) learn a lot, b.) represent Booth well, and c.) share my learnings and insight with the student community on my return.
UChicago’s support extended well into Davos, where Dean Rajan invited me to the event he hosted along with President Robert Zimmer, David Rubenstein, and Satya Nadella. Pinch me! Over a panel discussion, I watched President Zimmer and Dame Minouche Shafik (LSE Director) discuss the present-day challenges in global higher education. From hearing about the thought that goes into shaping a strong and diverse class through the competitive application process, to hearing their excitement about nurturing the student community through their transition back into the working world as transformed leaders, to their intentions and goals moving forward—it is truly a rare opportunity to understand how leaders at the helm of top institutions make decisions.
Post-panel discussions were vibrant and the Booth alumni community was tremendously excited to find a first-year in their midst. They offered support, advice, shared anecdotes, and insights about their own journey, and generously extended connections to contacts that may be helpful as I build my career. It was also enlightening to learn how many of them have reinvented themselves several times since graduating from Booth, leaving their mark on various industries in unique ways.
Determined to make the most of this opportunity, I introduced myself to President Zimmer. In the course of conversation, I asked how he defines success for his students—or, more specifically, his hopes, dreams, and expectations of students in the UChicago community. His answer resonates deeply with me: “People are motivated by a variety of things, be it monetary gains, fame, or doing good in this world. I am not here to judge their motivations. I define my own success, and, in turn, the success of my students, when I know that their education has equipped them with the toolkit to make their own decisions from a place of knowledge and strength—no matter the decision.”
I remain very grateful for this opportunity to visit Davos and engage with people who are far removed from our reality. Beyond the glitz and glamour, it was overwhelming to be welcomed into discussions by global leaders. This is the quiet magic of Booth—all that goes beyond academic learning, the opportunity to chart new paths, the credibility to build a strong career and legacy (which, in itself, is pretty darn significant). Booth truly creates an environment for students to explore a much broader canvas—all one needs is an idea, and the community rallies to translate it into reality.