Four Life Lessons that #GES2017 reminded me

IMG_1436.JPG

As someone who travels regularly (I made over 18 trips in 2017), I have noticed how some trips leave a more lasting impact on you than the others. The 8th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (#GES2017) at Hyderabad, India this past week was certainly one of the top transformative trips I’ve made in 2017. I’m now back in Washington, DC, surprised by how much I’ve learned, been challenged, energized, and changed in five mere days of traveling. And in reflection, I wanted to take the time to share some of the lessons I have learned as we continue to celebrate and understand the global entrepreneurship movement.

 

What is GES?

The GES (Global Entrepreneurship Summit) is a powerful global network and an invite-only gathering of entrepreneurs, investors, and supporters of entrepreneurship to celebrate global entrepreneurship during a 2.5 days event. Since it commenced in 2010 under the Obama Administration, thousands of entrepreneurs around the world were able to connect, communicate, and collaborate to create greater impact as a result of GES participation.

I had the honor to attend this year’s Summit as one of the 1,500 global entrepreneurs from 150 countries and as one of the selected U.S. representative who is redefining creativity in the workplace and education at InnovatorsBox®. The 2017 event was even more special as this is the first event held in Southeast Asia in partnership with India government, the first event that had more than 51% female leader participation from around the world, and the first one held since the Trump Administration took office in 2016. It is also the first one that highlighted the significance of female entrepreneurship by having the theme “Women First, Prosperity for All”.

 

(1) The World is Bigger Than We Think

We may problem-solve all the time but how often do we think of the impact, implications, and ripple effects of what our decisions and products can create, and globally? GES reminded me of the importance to think and do big. When we limit what we think we can do, we limit what we can do. While many solutions will not be scalable for the global market from day one, thinking of making a global impact early on can play a critical role to the success we will see. Many problems and solutions are connected and the more you understand how one market influences another, the better solutions you could create. The access to proper food and nutrition is never a problem isolated to an agricultural sector. The access to healthcare is not just a problem for the medical sector.

Meeting entrepreneurs from all around the world has reminded me of how critical it is to always keep in mind how different variables impact one another and how leaders can collaborate to reach better solutions together. Furthermore, many problems that entrepreneurs are solving today are solutions that could truly benefit a lot of people beyond the cities it was first created in. That drone app tackling transportation problem in India can play a huge role in rural transportation in other countries. That hydro machine creating clean water out of thin air can provide clean water for many other countries that are also in need of clean water. That DNA analyst providing affordable DNA forensics in Bermutas can make science and law enforcement work a lot easier for many other nations. It was also inspiring to meet many more entrepreneurs thinking of societal impact and doing good beyond just making money. Such growth in social entrepreneurship was visible and learning how they found creative ways to make money as well as do good for the greater society was inspiring, to say the least.

What can you do to make a positive global impact with the work that you do?

 

(2) Entrepreneurship is Tough and We are More Alike Than What Most People Think

Connecting with global leaders reminded me of how much alike we all are despite the differences in the challenges we face and the businesses we have. Whether this person was from Algeria, Kosovo, Honduras, India, Bhutan or Canada, we all agreed how hard it was to find mentors, capital, information, time-management, and technical resources. While certain cities had better infrastructure such as internet, transportation, and government funding to support their growth, we agreed that starting a business is a lot harder than what most people think, and especially to those who have never created a venture before. As one person said, “just because you registered your business, it does not mean that you are an entrepreneur,” and yet so many people categorize themselves as an entrepreneur without doing the work.

The increasing media reporting and attention given to entrepreneurship almost created this disillusion to what entrepreneurship really is and makes it look so easy. While having the resources and skills are key, to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to have a specific mindset combined with resilience, patience, flexibility, and wisdom. It made me wonder if things would be better if more incubators, accelerators, media, and educational programs had a better understanding of the true meaning of entrepreneurship, and provided the deeper support and guidance that entrepreneurs really need. I’ve met a lot of professors and incubators who teach entrepreneurship with zero backgrounds in entrepreneurship. What kind of world would they be creating if they are teaching something they have never walked the lives of? It is more than just meeting a sales quota and creating a business model.

GES3.jpg

 

(3) To Change Gender Gap, We Need to Bring Men and Children into the Picture

Despite this week’s celebration in the growth of female entrepreneurship, we also had some real talk on why the narrative is still not changing fast enough: American female entrepreneurs get less than 10% of investments today. Most employers still worry when female leaders take sabbatical leave or get pregnant. Most companies have a lower salary for female than men. The list of unfairness goes on. While the topic was no news, I was inspired by how different leaders were tackling this issue in different communities to empower equality. Here are some approaches that came up during the week that I think you would appreciate:

 

  • Mother Entrepreneurs’ Relationship with their Children: Do you see yourself spending a lot of time working and little time with your children? Get your children involved in your business life early on and help them understand the impact and work that you are doing. When they are a part of your journey, they will not only feel empowered, but will also understand the business world better. You can convert their frustration about your late hours into empowerment when they know that they are directly contributing to the growth of your business. For instance, one entrepreneur started to task their children with research and editing work. Getting the kids involved like that was a great way to let them understand how lab work and scientific research is done, and allow them to continue practicing better questioning. Another mother took the time during dinner each day to ask everyone what is something new they learned and failed. Creating a space to have equal and honest conversation helped the family learn about the importance of resilience and learning from failure as a skillset.

 

  • Educating Your Sons and Males Around you: I have read a lot about how parents teach their daughters about how to be empowered but not enough about how they teach their sons to be better boyfriends, husbands and colleagues. In several panels, it was empowering to see how leaders put more emphasis on spending the time educating their sons, husbands, uncles and nephews on how males in our society should see their roles differently around women, and how they can be a better ally to their female friends today and in the future. Parents who took the time to communicate this early on have found how their children tend to stand up for justice and equality better. Studies also show that fathers grow stronger empathy and understanding to female inequality and empowerment when they have a daughter in the family. And I’m sure his wife makes a difference in that conversation too. It does not happen overnight but putting the effort in creating a safe space to talk about this and have males understand this is very powerful and much needed.

 

  • Create a Workplace that Honors Mothership and Family: There are still too many companies that do not give mothers enough time to rest, recharge and grow. It creates a dilemma of whether having a child is good or not. America is one of the worst countries in walking this talk and it was inspiring to learn how many other countries and companies have found ways to empower their female employees in finding the balance by giving more leave, by giving equal leave to male and female, and by offering childcare support. How can you make child care more affordable and accessible for parents so that they can continue to support their children while they grow professionally? Studies show that the working mothers tend to have more successful and educated children. When children see their mothers start business, they too tend to rethink about gender gap. How might we do a better job at this through company policies and on a macro level?

Everything won’t change overnight but every small act can make a difference. What will you do to make that small shift in the narrative?

GES4.jpg

 

(4) Color and Gender Bias is a Human-Creation. It’s Time We Stop Stereotypes.

In America, we grew up learning to categorize what race and gender we fall under due to our skin color and sexuality. I think many of us stop questioning whether this is right or wrong because we have been doing this for such a long time. But do you realize how this impacts the way we think and categorize people we associate with unconsciously? Talking to leaders around the world and how they communicate diversity was another reminder of how much we humans have manually created this term “difference” and “diversity”. I had first started to think of more on this when I watched the BBC’s video on how childrens do not see the differences of race, gender, and physical ability the way adults do in June to be powerful message. (You should definitely check it out if you have not yet.) So, why do we do it now?

 

A friend from Algeria gave me a good example of how confusing this categorization has been. When she first came to America and had to go to the hospital for her son, she was puzzled at the question on race. She is from Africa and never had to think of race as a ‘color’ category. At first, she said that she doesn't know, and then later said that perhaps she is a hint of dark brown and whiteness, which got the hospital totally confused. They got even more confused when she said she was not a minority, by saying “We are the largest group in our home country so we are not a minority.” After long conversation, when the doctor said that she was black, she simply thought that it was a code, and not a reference to the race or the color of her skin, and thanked the doctor. She innocently thought that perhaps everyone was color-coded in the hospital. This is also how her 7-year-old son first learned about the concept of color and biases around it. Such unconscious bias to race, gender and color will not disappear immediately but I think it's time we start talking about this more openly and acknowledging how much of this is truly man-made. As you can see from the BBC video, many of us did not see this as children because it is not natural. I’ve heard how so many mothers have had a tough time talking about the color difference to their young children for the first time. What would the world look like if we did not have to talk about this and the children could grow up without seeing the differences the way the adults do today? It’s a question we should think more about.

GES5.jpg


Overall, it was a powerful week and reminder that we are not alone. Throughout the day, I was constantly reminded of the power of mindset and how much more disruption needs to happen in the way we learn, teach and communicate. As one of the panels highlighted, it’s time that education is disrupted instead of complaining that our next generation is not ready for the future workforce. So much of our earlier education was focused on memorizing. Now though, memorizing won’t really get you very far. The more we understand that having a global, creative, and open mindset is a key to our growth, regardless of weather we’re an entrepreneur or not, the more thoughtful our next generation will be.

 

We also often forget about this as we tend to do problem-solving alone. Surrounding myself in a room full of amazing leaders and smart female leaders was a reminder that this world indeed is full of diverse talent and individuals who want to make a greater positive difference in society. And the more we communicate and collaborate, the greater and lasting our impact can be.

 

I am deeply humbled that I got to experience GES and be part of this community. I look forward to seeing how we can continue to change the narrative, community, and society by putting 100% into our visions each day. The more candles we light, the brighter this world will be. Thank you again, the State Department and India Government, for creating this space for us and for the honor to share my vision with the greater world.

GES6.jpg

If I left you with more questions to think about at the end of this post, I’m glad. We can’t get great answers without first asking more thoughtful questions.

 

Monica Kang is the Founder and CEO of InnovatorsBox® where she helps leaders unlock their creative leadership potential and is redefining innovation in the workplace. Since launch, InnovatorsBox® has been recognized as the only creative education firm that is teaching creativity in a tangible, practical and relatable way for professionals to understand, embrace, and practice. She is an avid supporter and speaks often on the importance of rethinking creativity, diversity and inclusion, diversity in technology, and social entrepreneurship. She actively supports DC Tech growth as the Organizer and Facilitator at Startup Weekend and President of DMV Startup.