Before this summer, Karin Bjerde never thought of herself as a “future global leader”. She is, after all, a college student and just 22 years old.
Then again Ms Bjerde, who is in her second year at the Stockholm School of Economics, is not your average college student. She is fluent in three languages and learning a fourth (Chinese), she has work experience at several major companies including Volvo and Morgan Stanley, has represented her country, Sweden, at the Model United Nations three years running, has built houses in Chaing Mai, Thailand, and worked at an orphanage in Shanghai, China.
In July, Ms Bjerde was selected to spend a week in New York City at the Goldman Sachs Global Leadership Institute. During that week, she and 74 other similarly ambitious college students, attended intensive tutorials, seminars and speeches by heads of business, high-ranking politicians and respected philanthropic leaders.
“It was such a smart, driven group,” she recalls. “It was exciting to meet people who are so inspired. Every single person there had an issue that they’re passionate about – whether it’s ending world hunger, or dealing with climate change.”
While she is still modest about the “future global leader” monicker – “We’re just a bunch of kids who want to help solve some big problems,” she says – she has come around to the notion that: “Maybe some of us do have the potential to be global leaders.”
That revelation is music to the ears of Stephanie Bell-Rose, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the investment bank that sponsors the programme. “Our aspiration is to empower young people to go forth and lead global society,” she says. “We hope [the week-long programme] inspires kids, and encourages them to view their lives in broader terms by placing themselves in a global context.”
The Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Program was created to identify and reward 150 of the most accomplished second-year university students from all over the world, according to Ms Bell-Rose. She says this age group was chosen specifically because “they’re at a formative stage in development – they have a sufficient base of experiences to draw upon, but they’re also open to new ideas and open to modifying”.
Winners receive a prize of $3,000. And, based on several rounds of interviews, 75 of the students are selected to attend the Leadership Institute in New York City.
At the institute, students take part in management training and seminars on current events. They also hear from leaders in the public, civic and private sectors. This year’s speakers included: Jeanette Kagame, First Lady of Rwanda, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, Richard Parsons, CEO of Time Warner, and Vishakha Desai, president of The Asia Society.
Faculty from The Leadership Center at Morehouse College and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania lead seminars and foster discussion. These seminars and speaking events are meant to “cultivate the leadership instincts” of the students, according to Ms Bell-Rose.
“The idea is to draw together a diverse set of leadership styles and experiences, and inspire students to be bold innovators, leaders in the first degree.”
Allan Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education, the group that runs the competition, believes the primary benefits of the programme for the students are “the confidence they get” and “the notion they could affect the world”.
Mr Goodman says that he, along with other programme administrators, tries to impress on the students that “we’re counting on them to make it a better world. We’re planting the seeds that they have the responsibility”.
The programme has built an extensive and active alumni network. Alums are encouraged to team up to apply for modest seed money from the programme’s Social Entrepreneurship Fund to fund their ideas. In recent years, students have launched dozens of social ventures, including a school in rural India, a technology education programme in China and a micro-enterprise initiative for women entrepreneurs in Macedonia.
Ms Bjerde plans to apply for seed funding to do relief work in Rwanda with two other students. She says that the programme has made her reconsider her career plans. “Going to the school that I do, I tend to think about a career in investment banking because it’s such an intense focus for other students. But this programme has made me think more idealistically about how I can help people,” she says.
“The major thing this programme has done is to help me build a network. No matter where in the world I want to work on something, I now have a contact there I can turn to, and they will help me.”
Shaping leaders for global change
The Goldman Sachs Global Leaders Program was established in 2001. It identifies second-year college students who demonstrate academic excellence and leadership potential and provides them with unique opportunities for leadership development.
In order to identify these students, the GSGLP runs an annual international competition at more than 90 universities in 19 countries. Students must be nominated by their schools and submit a lengthy application. There is no specific quota; rather, the programme seeks to gather a well-rounded group of students studying science, economics, humanities and business.
The programme provides young leaders with a unique international network through which they can share ideas, learn from established leaders, work collaboratively and address global challenges. By exposing participants to the complex issues and opportunities arising from an increasingly interdependent global economy, the programme hopes to expand perspectives and enhance skills critical for leadership in a changing world.