Global Shaper Natalie Chan Shares 7 Key Takeaways From Davos 2019

By Christina Ko

After rubbing shoulders with the likes of Jack Ma, Bill Gates and, the founder of OWN Academy shares her post-WEF dream to change the world

Tatler Asia

Empowerment has been a byword for Natalie Chan ever since she founded OWN Academy, a learning institute that pushes students to take ownership of their own futures. As part of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers community, a network of changemakers selected from applicants around the world, she was recently selected to attend Davos 2019, one of only 49 individuals chosen from a pool of over 7,000 names.

Here she shares her personal experiences of the forum, and how these learnings will empower her to take her vision from concept to execution. 

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Photo: Ciaran McCrickard/World Economic Forum
Above  Photo: Ciaran McCrickard/World Economic Forum

Personalisation Is The Enemy Of Progress

While we crave personalisation, having everything in your life tailored to your specific needs and desires can be a double-edged sword. "With artificial intelligence, it’s all about customisation—and with Gen Z, it’s very much, I want my custom-made this or that," Chan says. "On the flip side, that also [creates] an echo chamber of who you think you want to be, rather than actually expanding your horizons."

By being spoon-fed only the things we think we want, we get Google ads that remind us of items we wanted to buy, social media posts that never deviate from our interests and suggested content that tends to be variations on a theme. "That’s actually very dangerous. It doesn’t help you recognise more of what’s out there. As all this AI is becoming more and more prevalent, it’s interesting that a lot of people are saying that you need to be way more human now, more human-centric, to combat this." That means looking up from your phone, having conversations and stepping out of your comfort zone.

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Photo: Greg Beadle/World Economic Forum
Above  Photo: Greg Beadle/World Economic Forum

Treat Technology Like You Would A Human Being

"I was in a small group with, who is a huge data advocate," says Chan. "He was saying that data and privacy are human rights. And that every piece of data is actually a person, and we need to treat data respectfully.

"AI needs to be treated like a baby, because AI copies human behaviour. So if you’re being malicious, AI will adopt that. We need to be benevolent, and treat technology like another human. I’d never thought about it. People like to swear at Siri—that’s bad." In essence, the more malicious you are to artificial intelligence, the more it will in turn adopt your negativity.

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Photo: Manuel Lopez/World Economic Forum
Above  Photo: Manuel Lopez/World Economic Forum

Change Starts At The Bottom

Four days meeting and listening to the world's top leaders is a great opportunity, but what it really is, is a responsibility. "There are all these talks, but ultimately what needs to happen is action," says Chan. "Going there is just the beginning, rather than, 'This is where I want to get to and then I’m done.'

"When I was there, I tried to meet with Carrie Lam, but she rejected me. I realised that you can't rely on governments, it has to be a bottom-up approach. What can we do on a local level? The point of revolution is to bring humans together to work together. For me, it’s more like, how can I work faster, and better, and connect with more people who want to help young people recognise what their futures are, and guide them through the messy process of self discovery?

"How do I find more commonalities specific to the future of work? How can I go to companies and tell them that the current future of work and the talent pipeline are broken? How can I work with you to build that talent pipe? For me, it’s more how can I connect faster, bring more companies on board recognising that this is a challenge? How do I go to schools and share the findings from WEF? To talk to parents and students, and tell them, I can’t change what you’re doing in school, but here’s something more outside of school?"

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Photo: Benedikt von Loebell/World Economic Forum
Above  Photo: Benedikt von Loebell/World Economic Forum

The Time To Act Is Now

The Global Shapers may have years yet to act upon their learnings, but the time to effect change is now, says Chan, sharing a chilling realisation: "There’s one quote from Professer Klaus Schwab [executive chairman of WEF] on climate change that really stuck with me. We’re the first generation that’s really feeling the impact of the last generation, but we’re also the last generation that can do something about it. And we only have 12 years to flip this over."

For her, this applies equally to her students and life. "How can I engage more young people in the professional world who are influential, and bring them to students so they can see their own agency, and start acting now?"

Inspiration Can Come From Anywhere

While world leaders were everywhere in Davos, one of Chan's most moving interactions came from a fellow Global Shaper. "The one person that really shook me to my core was Mohamed from Kakuma camp in Kenya, who was a refugee from Somalia," she says. "He has been in that camp since he was two, and he had never left the camp until he came to Davos. It was his first plane ride, first train, first time seeing snow.

"He’s 28 and I’ve never met a more articulate 28-year-old. He received up to a high-school education, but he self-studies, reads a lot of books, and he was actually one of the co-chairs. This year at Davos we had six young people as co-chairs of the event, and he raised his hand to ask: Right now, we’re all here to talk about the fourth industrial revolution, preparing for that future, but what about the countries where we haven’t even had our first industrial revolution? What about people like me who don’t even have a document that gives me a home? It’s amazing to be here, but in one weeks’ time I will be back in my camp. What do I say to my people? What are these leaders saying to the people left in a camp?"

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Photo: Greg Beadle/World Economic Forum
Above  Photo: Greg Beadle/World Economic Forum

Make A Difference Your Own Way

Inevitably, WEF means to make people question their own paradigms—Chan included. "It made me question, what am I doing with my life? Should I just quit everything that I do and just become a humanitarian and just help people where I can actually see the impact?

"Right now, what I’m doing, it sounds great, but it’s so hard to get it into families, It’s so hard to have them see the value. Because it’s so intangible, the future. What if I just want to do something tangible? But I told my friends, and they said it’s a waste of talent to go to a refugee camp. But it got me thinking. If I want to build the future of schooling, what if I turned every single orphanage into the best private school? And I think that is something that I would want to do as part of a longer-term goal. And I want to help create educational products that you can take into refugee camps."

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