As a tangible demonstration of the intellectual and creative capacity within NYU's global network, 1,624 of its members recently took part in the inaugural Global Idea Exchange (GIE). They shared inspirations, proposed creative ideas, and applauded or developed others' ideas on an online platform in order to answer the question: How might we activate the potential of cities to ignite a modern renaissance? Although achieving "a modern renaissance" seemed to some a grandiose and ambitious challenge, the 122 resulting ideas posted on the global platform suggest numerous ways through which the social and scientific realities of our time can be positively transformed.
Online, the NYU GIE experience highlighted the immense value of interdisciplinary conversation and open-minded collaboration in realizing the potential of students across cultures, interests, and perspectives. Offline, in the rising global metropolis of Shanghai, a diverse group of selected NYU GIE fellows gathered to work on the refinement of the top ideas under the guidance of esteemed mentors drawn from NYU's faculty, administration, and board of trustees.
Each team of three fellows diligently worked on one idea, developing a prototype and repeatedly testing its workability through field experiments and inter-group evaluations. Some of the projects offered solutions related to reducing environmental problems by creating effective means of waste management, integrating time calculation with consumer decision-making to "demystify the brand experience," and using artistic innovation to increase social integration in big cities, bridging the digital divide through computer access and training services to underprivileged children in major global cities.
Collaboration being at the heart of the refinement process, students were forced to challenge their own perspectives, to listen to and genuinely consider opposing views while always maintaining a team spirit. Sophomore Sanyu Kisaka, a fellow from NYUAD, said, "I also learned that it is important, when working as a team, to establish a foundation of agreement because the idea lives in the embrace of those who created it. It is important for the collaborators to fully grasp the idea they are working on." The diverse background of the 18 fellows, representing 10 different countries and 10 NYU schools, immensely shaped the groups' products.
The refinement week was quite extraordinary. I felt like I went from being an NYU Abu Dhabi student to being an NYU student at the Abu Dhabi campus; two very different feelings.
Another important concept that was continually communicated during the GIE was innovation. Each day, two GIE mentors gave one-hour "inspiration" talks to the fellows, through which they touched upon topics such as individual development, innovation techniques, and practical steps of establishing start-ups. Fellows were encouraged to think bold, develop entrepreneurial habits, and engage in social innovation. "Something valuable that I took away from the refinement week was that I have the ability to come up with an idea and the tools with which to make it work," Kisaka said. "It has changed my perspective in a meaningful way. It has caused me not to doubt myself and my ideas. I feel more equipped to venture and find out how viable some of the ideas I have are for the societies I have been exposed to."
When not occupied with working on the following day's deliverable or commenting on each other's ideas, the fellows were busy making friends. The frequent bus rides were vibrant with loud conversations, laughter, and inter-mingling. There was hardly a shortage of topics for the diverse group of full- and part-time NYU undergraduates, graduates, and PhD candidates to discuss. Moreover, visits to offices of major international technology companies including Continuum gave students a rare networking opportunity. The final day of presentations and exhibitions introduced them to local innovators, professionals, and other Shanghai residents who offered valuable feedback on the projects.
As much as the participants, the working group behind the NYU GIE will learn much from this first endeavor. The first challenge in using the rich potential of NYU's global network university for activating a modern renaissance begins from ingraining such a network itself. Connecting 55,000 minds across schools, cultures, and disciplines to enable them to work with a shared sense of global responsibility requires serious commitment. Many participants, including myself and Kisaka, believe that the GIE has, at the least, significantly contributed to the achievement of this goal. As Kisaka said, "The refinement week was quite extraordinary. I felt like I went from being an NYU Abu Dhabi student to being an NYU student at the Abu Dhabi campus; two very different feelings."