It is April of 2016. A distinguished group of former diplomats and international affairs thought leaders gather along the humid bay of Hangzhou, China to discuss the future of the G20 community—an economic and political partnership of major world leaders spanning the United States and China to France and India. The uncertainty of the American election looms, but the group of experts gathered for the inaugural Vision 20 Summit in the thankfully air-conditioned auditorium conclude their conference—confident that the populist wave gripping the United States and Europe will subside.
Six months later: November 8 of 2016. The Republican candidate for President of the United States—business mogul Donald J. Trump—wins the election in an unprecedented performance. Four months later on February 27 of 2017—just a few weeks following Donald Trump’s inauguration as President—the very same group of international affairs experts gather in a city boasting the familiar humid climate with a stark difference in political atmosphere: Washington, DC.
The participants take their seats across a roundtable at the Brookings Institution. As coffee and tea is consumed, subdued conversations begin between former diplomats, business entrepreneurs, development consultants, and academic leaders. What does the political future for the international community hold? How will the upcoming elections in France and Germany shape national sentiments of isolationism and populism? Which agendas and challenges serve as the chief focal points for the international community given these new political and economic realities? The second annual Vision 20 Summit has begun.
The morning continues and the mood of the boardroom relaxes. Healthy debates on sustainability, accessibility, empowerment, and inclusiveness scamper out in front of doubtful, pessimistic, and gloomy shadows. Vision 20 participants focus their discussion on achieving realistic agenda-setting objectives for the upcoming G20 Summit in Hamburg in July of 2017. Implementing sustainable infrastructure, institutionalizing political transparency, and catalyzing an informed public mark the equilateral goals that will ultimately be offered to G20 negotiators and stakeholders in slightly-cooler Hamburg in four months. Ultimately, the V20 cohort will author a policy briefing that will fall into the hands of the German government preceding the Hamburg Summit.
Participants ranging from German legislators and Argentine economists, to veteran World Bank analysts enrich and delineate the conversation toward sustained hope and realistic optimism for the future. The afternoon sessions bring together technology entrepreneurs and business CEOs. Public-sector infrastructure policy makers debate myriad opportunities and challenges behind urbanization and corporate social responsibility—while ensuring that affected communities remain empowered and included throughout seemingly all-encompassing economic development agendas.
Born out of the day-long annual conference is an overarching sense of optimism and a reaffirmed recognition that while significant political and socioeconomic challenges now befall the international community, constructive forums between partners and networks can lead to positive policies that integrate sustainability, accessibility, and transparency into local and international stories.
As the sun sets and an evening chill takes hold, the Vision 20 cohort ends their annual conference sharing a certain kind of ammunition—not the type that segments societies into insular islands, but the type that catalyzes collaboration toward realizing objectives for a positive—yet challenging—future for the international community.
Mitch Hulse is a V20 Fellow and a student in the MPPGA Program at UBC focusing on international development policy, information communication technology, and digital development principles. You can follow him on Twitter @mitchhulse.
The goal of the Vision 20 meeting and network is to bring together scholars from various fields with think tank leaders, civil society and private sector leaders, and government leaders with the hope of generating ideas and actionable items for the long and medium term, while finding ways to initiate such processes in the short-term. You can read more about V20 here.