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September 16th, 2015

The People of Globalisation: A Young Professional’s Reflection from the 2015 Asia-Pacific Cities Summit

Clutching a coffee in one hand and a worn pen in the other, the Plaza Ballroom raucously buzzes on a Tuesday morning. Humming conversations echo in a diverse sea of officials and bureaucrats flowing through in organised chaos. Fast-pacing businessmen converse in contained throngs and assistants nod in supportive rhythm. Waiters wander in endless circles. Smart phones are tapped with furious speed as international guests pose and attempt to capture the magnitude of the global collection and collaboration occurring around me.

From the 5th to the 8th of July 2015, leaders from around the world gathered in Brisbane for the 10th Asia-Pacific Cities Summit and Mayors’ Forum. Representing The University of Queensland as Young Professional at the bi-yearly event, I engaged in an event that breached both cultural and generational gaps. Initiated by the Brisbane City Council, the event inspired an environment of redesign, with leading business and government representatives introducing a myriad of methods for restructuring the many facets of modern cities.

Entering the opening ceremony at Brisbane City Hall, my mind was in a frenzy attempting to prepare itself for the days to come. Sauntering down the red carpet into the main hall, a first clue to the true significance of the event and the importance of those who attended, it was difficult not to be initially intimidated by the great unknown that lay ahead. However, no sooner had the event began than it seemed to be over.

Moving swiftly from opening to close, my conception of time was surely put to the test with the seemingly impossible number of activities that were packed into each day. The eager group of Young Professionals attended four plenary sessions, eight forum sessions and hours of marketplace liaising in the interim. All in the space of two days.

The sessions focused on four conference themes: Global Cities, Future Cities, Digital Cities, and Cities for People. Each presented its own assortment of experts and specialists offering unique insight into the role of cities in our rapidly changing global context. The food for thought plucked in the plenaries was carried into the forum sessions for the Young Professionals to employ as stimulus for brainstorming creative new solutions to complex societal issues. The program afforded us the opportunity to present these fresh ideas to Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk to integrate directly into the Majors’ Forum: an excellent initiative for direct youth engagement in decision making, and a rewarding advancement to be involved with.

Ironically, being thrown into this brainstorming fray head first left little time to initially ruminate or worry. Gradually throughout the four-day whirlwind of diplomatic engagement, once my bearings were set, I was able to reflect.

While the new impressions formed by the thought-provoking schedule are conceptually unquantifiable, there is one idea I think worth articulating to provide insight into the inner workings of the transnational conference and global society more widely.

The collection of leaders ranging from Lord Sebastian Coe (London) to SY Lau, the Senior Executive Vice President of Tencent (Beijing) is an exemplar feature of our larger interconnected world state. This raised consideration in my mind of the role of globalisation in modern societal structures. Let me pose this simplistically complex question to provide context for my considerations: what is your immediate thought when you hear the word globalisation? Does is provoke inspiring conceptions of increased connections across borders? Or fearful images of inhibiting dependence and a widening of the class gaps?

Regardless of the emotions sparked by the term, our thought-process often falls short of a deeper analysis. Globalisation is taken now as a complex leviathan guiding an unavoidable reality beyond comprehension. It can be tempting therefore to observe the giant tidal wave that as a force above and beyond us. That is, until it crashes directly into us, washing past in a deafening and blinding roar that entices us to remain protective and unresponsive. It may wipe away the foundations of past rickety constructions or cleanse the waste that bogged down the chance for improvement: as such a powerful force it deserves greater scrutiny by all.

While undeniably complex, it is not beyond us to separate the wave into its individual particles. To question what small, seemingly insignificant components make up this unstoppable rolling force. APCS acted as a controlled environment to observe those components. The individual particles of business, entrepreneurship, innovation, technology, and politics (the list goes on), by the rules of nature, must be united by a binding force. As a perceptive observer, equipped with the tools of an inquisitive mind and patient observation, I took up the challenge of attempting to identify those components and locate their ultimate binder.

The Plaza Ballroom marketplace provided an ideal location for my task. Watching the ebb and flow of participants crossing in and out of temporary structures that housed spokespersons eagerly awaiting to share their newest innovations, I focused my scope between two lenses.

First was a zoomed-out, holistic impression that presented a stark pattern of interconnections formed with each new introduction. Second was a zoomed-in lens, peering into individual groups huddled in a replicated and an almost scripted process of information sharing. Both lenses were grounded in an overarching binder: people.

The word has been used so often in a disjointed myriad of indications that it often produces two immediate reactions: that it is either past its use-by date, or too common to refer to anything significant. In spite of its reception, it is the only expression apt to denote the adhesive that is globalisation. A business deal sealed with a handshake, a meal shared at lunch: the verbal and non-verbal cues that give the modern world its substance. Numerous packs multinational corporate and government leaders were forming connections before my eyes over a cup of coffee. The sheer simplicity of it all elucidated clearly the power of people.

With this new inception, I began to pry into the rapidity of globalisation. While the core adhesive of humanity is a natural and stable base, the rapid rate of restructuring between states is testimony to a tool practically less inborn: technology. To crudely compare, if each individual represented a cell, IT acts as the myelin sheath that increases the speed of transactions to extraordinary levels. Ironically, as Vivek Puthucode, Head of Microsoft Public Sector in the Asia-Pacific, expressed in the ‘Digital Cities’ plenary session, IT is often interpreted as indicative of solely technological considerations. The ‘I’, the individual people who share information, is often minimised by its more glamorous, yet equally crucial, counterpart.

In today’s world, one cannot exist without the other. This does not necessarily equate to unavoidable dependence, rather a structure so intricately woven it connects core cells of modern cities and societies in a complex and unassailable system. This system is the substance of our global world: a system that can be broken down and analysed if we look deeper into the tidal wave and the gargantuan incomprehensibility it initially presents. This deconstruction will reveal that we are both the observer of the wave and the very core material that gives the wave its strength, increasing our interconnected structural integrity with each technological innovation.

These observations have heightened my passion to optimize the power I inherently possess by virtue of my humanity. I can utilize both lenses and viewpoints to directly influence the direction of the tidal wave from within, while remaining conscious of its holistic impact.

In an age of societal structures that drastically morph and transform by the day, instead of letting the tide wash inevitably by, I choose to harness my influence over its direction.

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