Bain at One Young World – Reflections from a U.S. (Chicago-based) delegate speaker

My experience at the One Young World summit in Johannesburg, South Africa was truly once-in-a-lifetime. We were able to hear from amazing business and social leaders such as Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Arianna Huffington, Kofi Annan, Muhammad Yunus, and so many more.  I also had the unique opportunity to address the conference as a delegate speaker on the topic of Leadership and Government – and was humbled by my fellow delegate speakers across all of the plenary sessions.  For people so young they were filled with so much experience, so many ideas, and so much wisdom. The conference was a Bainie’s dream—we addressed complex problems by focusing on actionable solutions.

There were many elements of the conference that stood out, but there are two parts that really have stayed with me the most.

First – the location. Conference centers usually all look the same, and location is simply chosen based on cost or convenience. One Young World’s selection of Johannesburg did not fit this mold. Selected for its recent democratization and fascinating history, Johannesburg brought so much to the table as a host city.

A number of programming sessions addressed the lessons we can learn from South African history, from “Knowing Mandela” to “Sports and Society” to “HIV and Aids”. The “Knowing Mandela” session was easily one of the most powerful sessions at the entire conference. Learning about Nelson Mandela’s leadership style from his closest friends and advisors was fascinating. Mandela brought his divided country together by recognizing individuals’ humanity and remaining committed to forgiveness and reconciliation. This lesson was particularly poignant as the US government was shut down at the time due to deep divisions in ideology.

I also had the opportunity to venture out into Johannesburg and visit a school in a rural township. We spoke with students and school administrators about the work that has been done to turn the school around. Given the work the Bain Chicago office has done in starting an elementary charter school in Chicago, it was very interesting to see the similarities and differences in approaches. The racial and economic disparities I witnessed in Johannesburg were very reminiscent of the landscape in Chicago, though to a more significant degree. The lessons from the conference hall became much more powerful when witnessing their impact in the local community.

The second key takeaway from the conference was the fixation with entrepreneurship as a solution for social problems. We have all heard of TOMS—the “one for one” shoe company that donates a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. Blake Mycoskie, TOMS CEO, gave a great talk about how sustainable businesses can often do more to address social problems than nonprofits because they do not depend on the simple charity of others and can fund themselves into perpetuity. Blake’s message was great, but it was really driven home by the many plenary speakers that discussed the businesses they had started in their home countries. These businesses not only addressed social problems, but they confronted unemployment and economic disparity by providing jobs in the communities they seek to help. This is very aligned with how Bain approaches the issue of global poverty – partnering with Endeavor and Acumen to support high-impact entrepreneurship. As I look to my future and the ways I want to invest my time and money in social impact initiatives, I am more acutely aware of how critical the delivery model is to success. I will carry the lessons of social entrepreneurship with me.

I cannot adequately express my gratitude to Bain for offering me this incredible experience. I cherished the time with my fellow delegates and continue to reflect on the many lessons I learned. My worldview was dramatically expanded in just a few short days in Johannesburg, and I cannot wait to bring these lessons back to Chicago and back to Bain.

– Riley, Senior Associate Consultant, Chicago

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