Events - 30.04.2013 - 00:00 

Courage to speak plainly

What values do young people champion? Is the next generation courageous enough to go their own way? Unconventional thinking is what the winners of the essay competition discussed with guests at St.Gallen.<br/>


3 May 2013. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the St. Gallen essay competition, the student organisers of the conference had invited guests with strong opinions.

On the occasion of the panel discussion, the winners of the not immodestly entitled Wings of Excellence Award talked about “Empowering the next generation” with Dr. Burton Lee (Stanford University), Chandran Nair (The Global Institute for Tomorrow) and Professor Thomas Pogge (Yale University). The discussion was chaired by Yoko Ishikura, Professor at the Japanese Keio University. An illustrator translated the focal points of the topic, “Values, technology and welfare”, into pictures in the course of the discussion.

In his contribution, “Stop being the current”, Kilian Semmelmann from Germany called for a new way of looking at and promoting the young generation. Radoslav Dragov (Bulgaria) demonstrated in his essay, “Think Different: Why We Don‘t Think Differently”, why younger generations seem to be reconciled to a highly rationalised social and economic world. In her essay on “Global Institutions and Followership: Relearning that courage sits in the crowd”, Bree Romuld from Australia homed in on the question as to why courageous following is as important as courageous leadership.

Curse and blessing of modern technologies
After the winners had presented their essay concepts, Chandran Nair delivered a plea for more courage for new ideas as to how a successful life should be shaped. He called upon the young guests of the St. Gallen Symposium to go their own ways.

Not as “leaders of tomorrow” – this, he said, was an arrogant choice of words that was indicative of exactly the same attitude – but as people who cleverly tackle their lives in the spirit of the common good, and who also demonstrate commitment where no lucrative reference for their curriculum vitæ could be garnered. For example, in the installation of toilets in countries without any sanitary infrastructure. “We are talking about courage, but no one so far has used plain language,” said the Indian engineer provocatively. A clear-cut position must not be confused with one thousand followers on Twitter or numerous likes on Facebook.

In the discussion about future technologies and the role of the economy and of government, Chandran Nair again landed a sweeping blow: “I don’t need Facebook, I can face life – and love,” declared the founder of the think tank Global Institute for Tomorrow. Modern technologies were at once a curse and a blessing. Only a strong state was able to exercise responsible control over detrimental side effects of the worldwide web. “How else can they protect children from pornographic internet sites? McDonald’s and Google will certainly not bother to do so”.

Clear position instead of a lack of focus
The question as to how and whether government should take on the role of a guardian angel of its citizens gave rise to a touch of cold war on the podium. The fronts were clarified with some vociferation. Moderator Yoko Ishikura skilfully guided the panel guests back to the topic of values.

This is where Bree Romuld came in. “In our multi-option society, we often get bogged down in details,” she said. What mattered was to know who we are – and not how we present ourselves. When she had been talking to young students, she noticed that only very few were really able to explain who they were and what they stood for. “We have to learn to speak about our fundamental values,” said the Master’s Level student of the University of St.Gallen. A clear-cut stance was the prerequisite for the ability to make sensible use of opportunities, which included the options provided by modern technologies.

Developing a will of one’s own
Looking at the topical picture produced by the illustrator, Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach concluded the discussion with this recommendation to the young generation: “Always look at yourselves as part of a big whole, and cultivate your minds. Don’t run after us old ones, go your own ways.” St.Gallen’s patron saint, the itinerant Irish monk Gallus, was a good role model for the positive effect of unpopular decisions.

The essay competition was entered by approx. 1,000 students of all levels from 380 universities in 98 countries. The winners’ three English-language contributions can be read online at

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