Groundbreaking new ideas often come from young people – but how can we help them actually get implemented? Nominated as a ‘Leader of Tomorrow’ Chelsea Phipps attended the St Gallen Symposium, a unique annual gathering uniting the best of the next generation with some of the world’s most influential business and cultural leaders. 

Back in the summer, I had the privilege of attending the St. Gallen Symposium. To create inter-generational exchange about the challenges of our time, the Symposium brings together top leaders of their fields (‘Leaders of Today) and emerging young leaders for two days of stimulating discussions and workshops.

The 200 ‘Leaders of Tomorrow’ are selected either through an essay contest or through a nominations process.  I was lucky enough to be nominated by the Marshall Institute at LSE, joining graduate students from all over the world in St Gallen.

Hosted on the picturesque campus of the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland, I and other participants engaged with an array of sessions and talks on this year’s theme, “Beyond the end of work”. Discussions ranged from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, the role automation may play in making many jobs obsolete, to Universal Basic Income, robots in warfare, and re-skilling for the future of work. 

In the first session, I was paired with a member of the Finnish civil service working on using AI to better connect citizens to their government. We were given ten minutes to develop a pitch on how to use AI to solve a problem, which we then had to present to an audience.

One of the best things about the Symposium is that it provides young people with valuable access to experienced leaders. In a small group chat with Dominic Barton, Global Managing Partner of McKinsey & Company, Inc., I was able to ask how McKinsey considers social impact in their business model. I learnt about Barton’s desire to have more companies consider the ‘triple bottom line’, considering social, environmental and financial returns. 

I also heard Jacqueline Poh, the Chief Executive Officer of the Government Technology Agency of Singapore, discuss how her country’s government is turning Singapore into a ‘smart nation’ by integrating technology into healthcare, education, insurance, etc. In one session, a socialist and a hedge fund manager debated the merits of universal basic income in a hypothetical future world where automation makes wage work obsolete. In another, the UN Director-General of the Geneva Office outlined humanity’s to-do list for the future, and the need to radically reform the UN Security Council. 

But the richest part of the experience (other than the top-notch catering!) was without question the informal moments between programming. The attendees came from all over the world and had a broad range of backgrounds and perspectives. I learned something new from each conversation I had. One attendee had founded an speakers bureau empowering the voices of women of colour around the world. Another founded the first ever Vatican hackathon.

Another was studying structural engineering and working on how build a floating bridge across a Norwegian fjord. Another founded a soap recycling and upcycling social business in Haiti. Another was one of the lead organisers of the Women’s March in the US. Another was a social entrepreneur in Nairobi with several ventures, including one that sells affordable menstrual pads to help keep menstruating girls in school. Yet another was an artist whose work focuses on topics like humanitarian issues and women’s rights. And these examples were just from among the Leaders of Tomorrow!

By uniting today’s most inspiring leaders with the next generation of innovators, the St. Gallen Symposium presents an incredible opportunity to learn from a diverse and fascinating array of passionate people already making an impact on the world.


Chelsea Phipps is philanthropy and policy consultant based in London and working primarily with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on international development and global health policy. She received her Master of Public Administration at the London School of Economics and Political Science with a focus on social impact and international development.