World Fellows Forum encourages rethinking of ideas

On Sunday afternoon, the Yale World Fellows program kicked off its biennial World Fellows Forum — bringing together more than 100 current and former fellows to celebrate intellectual accomplishments and debate new or reinvigorated ideas.

The forum — which attracts emerging international leaders to Yale each year to reunite with colleagues, attend social gatherings and exchange intellectual ideas — focused on social change, with the word “Rethink” as its central theme. Held from Oct. 13 to Oct. 16 in the Yale Law School and the Omni Hotel, the forum invited its full network of over 200 World Fellows to campus.

“This is a structured unstructured space. We’re expecting a conversation that can change they way they think about their work,” said Uma Ramiah, the Yale World Fellows director of communications. “We’re excepting them to start new conversations, new collaborations and new partnerships.”

Around 160 fellows, all leaders in their own fields, arrived in New Haven this week to meet with academics, professors, police chiefs and corporation leaders. Over the next few days, they will engage with each other in discussions on culture, entrepreneurship, politics and sustainability.

In each of the Monday forums, presenters introduced and summarized a topic of interest, after which they opened the floor to general discussion. For instance, in the “Rethink: Urban Violence” forum, New Haven Police Department Chief Dean Esserman spoke of how he believes city environments foster their own crimes. Esserman then invited all of the fellows who attended the event to express their own thoughts and ideas.

“They come up with all these ideas. Lawyers, doctors, architects all come out of their idiosyncratic places and share different ideas together, which is when I think all the magic happens,” Ramiah said.

But the World Fellows Forum does not contain only discussions. Late Monday evening, the fellows were invited to a “Rethink Africa Party,” in which presenters spoke and celebrated emerging art and culture from the African continent. After the event, the fellows enjoyed dinner together and conversed on various subjects, including international issues, their own professions and their thoughts on how to generally improve society through collaboration and cooperation.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, this year’s “Rethink” forum will host discussions on issues such as peace, women, development and activism, before coming to a close on Wednesday morning.

Abhik Sen, a 2013 World Fellow and managing editor at the Economist Group in London, said he thinks the organization connects an extremely talented group of people who are trying to make positive differences gain new skill sets and obtain a broader vision of the world.

“[The forum] makes people more capable of fulfilling their promise that they want to have in the world,” he said. “What’s increasingly clear is the power of networks that happens at Yale — the power of serendipity ­— not only to renew your views but a way to refresh and challenge your views.”

Orzala Nemat, another World Fellow and an Afghan activist who works to empower local communities and find peaceful solutions to conflict, said the program has widened her perspectives on issues such as the development of women’s rights. Before entering the program, she said, she “had a very specific way of looking at things, but had no idea of other disciplines.”

“In this part of history, we tend to focus to too much on making doctors, lawyers, businessmen … To provide an opportunity to break those boundaries is an excellent opportunity,” she said. “It was indeed life-changing.”

There are a total of 241 World Fellows, and a selection committee chooses 16 emerging leaders in addition to two graduate students each year to be inducted as new fellows. Ramiah said that the selection committee chooses individuals who are “practitioners, not academics.”

“They have not finished their careers, but they have accomplished great things in their sectors, countries,” Ramiah said, adding that the fellows collaborate to bring together old and new ideas. “That’s when we pull them to Yale and give them access to everything that Yale has to offer.”

The 241 Yale World Fellows represent a total of 81 countries.

Correction: Oct. 15

A previous version of this article misstated how often the forum is held. It is held biennially, not annually. It also omitted to say that the conference is held at the Omni Hotel in New Haven, as well as at the Yale Law School. It also incorrectly quoted Uma Ramiah as saying she did not expect a conversation that could change the way the Fellows went about their work, when in fact she said that was what she was expecting.

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