episode 7 – art is a driving force at the world economic forum | Nico Daswani

In this episode, we host Nico Daswani, the Head of Art and Culture at the World Economic Forum. Daswani is a cultural producer with a 20-year track record of creating inclusive change. At the World Economic Forum, he creates a space for artists and cultural institutions to bring culture into high-level dialogue on global issues and to use the WEF’s influential platform to shape inclusive and sustainable narratives. He shares his views about the role of art in society, business, and education, and shows us through beautiful examples, the work of his team. 

Nico Daswani The Artian Podcast


Nir Hindi: [00:00:00] Hey podcast listeners. Thank you again for joining us at The Artian podcast where we explore how art and artists drive innovation, technology development, and influence the business environment.   And today we are very happy to have with us, Nico Daswani head of art and culture at the World Economic Forum.

[00:00:18] Hey Nico. Thanks for joining us.

[00:00:19] Nico Daswani: [00:00:19] Hi, Nir. Great to be here. Thank you,

[00:00:21] Nir Hindi: [00:00:21] Nico. Can you take a moment to introduce yourself to our listeners?

[00:00:26] Nico Daswani: [00:00:26] Sure. I’m a cultural producer. I have worked for about 20 years in the arts in different parts of the world. Mostly focused on creating spaces. Safe spaces, spaces of dialogue and interaction between communities of different cultures.

[00:00:43] That’s been sort of the modus operandi for my career. And in the past almost eight years, I’ve had the opportunity of bringing some of that and mostly learning the huge amount of from the context. Of the world economic forum, where most of my work revolves around creating a bridge between the cultural sector and the broader sectors, other sectors of society, economic, political, and other social sectors, so that it is a real conversation and real collaboration that is holistic and where the, the cultural community can really on the one hand contribute to some of the dialogues and decisions that happen at the highest level, but also benefit from access and resources that exist in those, in those networks.

[00:01:29] Nir Hindi: [00:01:29] You mentioned that the World Economic Forum, and you are leading the art and cultural team and department.  and I guess the majority of the listeners are familiar with the world economic forum.  It is, I think the most popular and most  well, known event is the gathering a Davos.  It is probably one of the most prestigious gathering for political and business leaders from around the world. You have presidents, ministers, business leaders, executives, and successful entrepreneurs, all coming together.   In a way. It is the gathering of elits who are mostly concerns with financial and political success.

[00:02:04] But for more than a decade now, art and culture are an integral part of the gathering. And as your role indicates Head of Art and Culture, it is an important part that the forum has a whole team dedicated just for that. And not only that the forum has dedicated a team for art and culture. They even appointed Yo Yo Ma the cellist as part of the world economic forum board.

[00:02:29] The first artist ever to do so, and before we kind of dive into the role of art and artists in the conference, I’m interested to hear from you, what is the, actually the role of art and culture team that you lead?

[00:02:44] Nico Daswani: [00:02:44] Thanks NIR. Yeah, no, , it’s not always  An obvious combination. When you think of the world economic forum, some of our events we in Davos is our, is our perhaps most well known event, but of course we do so much more as a, as an organization. And artists, you know, and so a lot of the work that we do with my team is really to create those bridges.

[00:03:04] Very concretely: it can be, for example, in a, in a context like Davos, when you’re having a conversation about climate change or about political instability or any other artificial intelligence is to ensure that we have really a diverse group of people speaking on that, so that while you may have a business voice, you also have a political voice.

[00:03:24] You also have maybe someone from the cultural field who maybe has just a different approach. It could be an artist, it could be a curator. People who look at these issues  in a different ways, uh, so that, so that the conversation can be enriched. So that’s at the very basic level, but over time it has grown to be much more integrated.

[00:03:42] So we this year in Davos, in January, we had the equivalent of what we call the festival. A festival where we produced exhibitions, installations, performances. We work with numerous artists. We work in collaboration with institutions like the Smithsonian, like the natural history museum, London.

[00:03:59] We’ve worked with the VNA  and, but we also work with, with small arts organizations and artists who are up and coming. And the idea is to create moments or moments of exchange that bring some of these leaders who. You know, don’t necessarily have a huge amount of time, uh, and are not necessarily in Davos to experience the arts.

[00:04:20] But if we can create an experience that brings people in to a different reality. So we work with new technologies. We worked with artists who created films in virtual reality, immersive work. We use large scale projection mapping. Uh, we use tactile environments, so we really try to make it in a way, uh, an educational setting.

[00:04:41] But really grounded in excellence in artistry. And of course, all of this work is, is topical. It’s linked to the issues and it’s aimed at bringing new conversations to bear and some of these leaders to really kind of understand these issues in a different way. So for us if a business leader or world leader leaves Davos having experienced one of our exhibitions and leaves with more questions and answers in a way we’ve done a good part of our job there because you you’re dealing with a very, very intelligent crowd. But also intelligent because they know that they need to surround themselves with different perspectives in order to advance their work and their, and their visions of the world.

[00:05:20] So over time, this now become a much more, I would say, slightly more peripheral, even though, you know, it’s been more than a decade. It’s actually been more like 25 years. And it’s a way predating my time that there was already the vision to bring artists and cultural content into our meetings specifically.

[00:05:37] But now it’s becoming more integrated part. I am under no illusion that it’s still not the reason why people will come to Davos, but I try to use that moment where we have this concentration of power, concentration of influence, concentration of media to bring  along with me  colleagues, artists, folks from the cultural community to really engage.

[00:05:59] In that moment and to contribute and to be part of spring conversations, but also to listen, you know, I always say to my fellow artists, you know, if you leave Davos without having learned one thing that would be, that would be a great tragedy because you know, you are not just with business leaders or with some of the greatest scientists in the world.

[00:06:16] You have Nobel prize winners. We have social entrepreneurs, we have some of all young global leaders and global shapers who are under the age of 30. We have some really, really wonderful. People who come. This is really to speak more specifically about Davos as an event. And, you know, the work that we do is more holistic for the organization.

[00:06:32] You mentioned your, Yo Yo Ma. You know, it was very intentional for us to over the course of a long time to make it palatable and applicable for someone from the arts to come and be part of that very highest level conversation and the steering of such an influential institution. So we work on several fronts.

[00:06:51] And making sure, trying to make sure that, that the arts and artists are represented within even the fabric of the institution. So on boards, on some of our work in groups  some of our other boards, other initiatives that we have and then in addition to that we’ll also use our platform, the world economic forum.

[00:07:09] For example, the social media platform. We have, I think, 18 million people now that follow the forum. So I really look at that as just a great tool, you know, can we, can we use our social media to create a campaign that tells a story that an artist is telling from a community that’s not usually represented and can that be part of a broader campaign?

[00:07:26] So we’re trying to think about all the tools, all the available resources that are part of this incredible ecosystem and how we plug in the arts and culture community.

[00:07:36] Nir Hindi: [00:07:36] Great.

[00:07:37] it sounds exciting. Now it makes me want to visit next time where we go after C virus situation.     in our previous conversation, you kind of mentioned two important roles you see, you have: create an impact and engage in touch the business leaders. Can you elaborate on that? Because as you mentioned, it’s like super sophisticated audience. To get to them, to convince them maybe to touch them. It’s not an easy task. It’s people that are invited and have offering for so many different realms

[00:08:06] Nico Daswani: [00:08:06] when we curate we’ve learned, and we learned  from the partners that we collaborate with these institutions I mentioned and others, but they learn also, you know, because they used to more used to curating for a museum space where people are going to  buy a subway ticket to get to the exhibition, to wait in line. None of my audience do that for my exhibitions, but they are there. They are in a way captive. If you want to put it that way. They’re in this very small space in the context of Davos. For example, they’re in this small Swiss Alpine village. And, you know, they are, again, it’s a very, very smart audience.

[00:08:39] People are busy and people also very mindful when, when you’re talking to them, but when you’re trying to make a point, um, so for us to curation always has to be in a way confounding boundaries. You know, if we were to go to an artist and some people sometimes conflate this with international organizations or NGOs that you will maybe hire an artist to do a piece of work on climate change.

[00:09:00] That may be great conceptually, but is the work itself one actually really good. I mean, as in the basics of the experience of art or an artistic experience is the work of the highest quality, which is a prerequisite to get the attention of these busy people. And secondly, does it engage folks in a place where maybe they have to live with the discomfort a little bit?

[00:09:21] Maybe they are, you can have more questions. Oftentimes when people curate for these kinds of spaces, there’s this idea that if you just visualize a concept or if you give someone a beginning, middle, and the end of the story, because it’s through a more creative artistic means that all of a sudden you’ve enlightened the business unit.

[00:09:39] I think it’s a lot more complex than that. And we’ve learned this over time. And what we found oftentimes is that it’s the curation of work that is really, emanating from artists that on the stand. On the one hand, understand the audience on the second hand are true to their form so that they are not trying to create something that reaches out of what they really know, but at the same time, download sort of in their own head, trying to create something that way we have to spend hours trying to explain to a business leader what this is about.

[00:10:07] And so the curatorial approach is probably quite unique. Because on the one hand, you need to have the excellence that you expect from a museum show and on the other hand, you have to be also thinking from the point, like a, like a public art installation, almost like an intervention, because you’re trying to get people to come in.

[00:10:25]and then, you know, converge and diverge, uh, after coming through one of the experiences. So when we think about impact, of course, it’s very difficult. It’s hard, it’s unusual that you’ll you’ll do something and all of a sudden, you know, something gets signed or, but, but of course, because it’s the world economic forum because of the quality of people in the level, I would say, or other than quality, but the level of people that we have that does happen and it’s been quite extraordinary.

[00:10:47] You know, to, to launch projects and in somewhat, some cases see impact that we had never even anticipated either because the works get taken on by different organizations and then take them on to other contexts or for, you know, the work to be part of a broader narrative. For example, this year and the year before in Davos, we had this wonderful piece called true VR, which is this incredible work by Melissa Zack and Winselor Porter based in the US and as crazy as it sounds, I mean, you actually become a tree through virtual reality. Uh, it’s one of those things that’s, again, that’s hard to explain unless yeah. You know, it’s, it’s kinda, again, it’s like, we’ll scratch their heads.

[00:11:27] What, what are you talking about? You know, this, but of course we got 1,500 people,uh and I’m talking, you know, household names going through it. It’s an eight, nine minute experience. anyway, but it was part of a broader, huge conversation about sustainability, about the launch of the trillion trees initiatives at Davos this year.

[00:11:44] So in a way we’ll, we’ll think about impact in the way in which what we are curating and producing is part of a broader campaign or broader narrative because you know, a business leader or a politician in a place like Davos has meetings goes to a session, does an interview, does an exhibition. And we see that as part of the kind of overall portfolio of experiences that bring a leader a slightly closer to your action.

[00:12:09] So we also don’t see it in isolation. We want it to be isolated.

[00:12:13] Nir Hindi: [00:12:13] So a more holistic approach to the whole experience of the Davos. Yeah, I like it. I like it. What’s the approach you said that you mentioned now that taking one of the missions of a world economic forum, and actually, as you mentioned with the trees, 1 trillion, 1 million, yeah, yeah.

[00:12:28] Nico Daswani: [00:12:28] 1 trillion. Yeah.

[00:12:31] Nir Hindi: [00:12:31] And, you know, kind of give it experience and visual aspect, not only talking about it and doing it in the field, but also creating. It’s an interesting approach, how you can amplify message and amplify vision. Not only through  just saying that’s what we will do in doing it. But also letting people  be part of the experience.

[00:12:52] You know, for me, art is a way to present alternatives.

[00:12:55] And I always say that artists are very good that kind of questioning the social norms, the status quo, et cetera. And they present different opinions obviously, and possibilities. And options in the world. And you also mentioned, and you mentioned it just at the beginning that you want in a way, the business leader to leave, not necessarily with answers, but rather questions.

[00:13:19] Why do you think it’s important to live with questions or kind of thinking about, or at least living with doubts in a way about the way we perceive the world

[00:13:31] Nico Daswani: [00:13:31] Well I think back at the situation from the past few months, you know, we left Davos on January 25, imagining a world having had all these incredible conversations and I can safely say pretty much, no one.

[00:13:45] had anticipated where we would be just a few months later. And so, as we realize how interconnected things are, as we understand things like the butterflies affect, you know, one small thing happening in one remote part of the world can have a massive impact on the whole planet. we realized that we need to, first of all, surround ourselves with more of a diversity of thinking.

[00:14:06] And for me that’s critical. I mean, it’s something that has led my journey in my career has been to try to ensure that  we foster and celebrate inclusion and diversity. Because it’s a dignity because it’s what needs to be done wherever we live. We want to make sure that people have those same rights and the same access, but also because it just makes us better.

[00:14:26] We learn better from people who have different life experiences, but oftentimes in the structures of power, there’s a lot of structural exclusion. And we tend to sometimes be in the same kind of circles of people who may have been educated in the same places. Maybe have the same sexual orientation and gender, maybe have the same similar worldview.

[00:14:48] And then you can get into places where the the past ahead and very clear to you and then boom, coronavirus hits you. Then you realize that you’re completely unprepared for this. I think artists. In a strange way, artists and the cultural sector have been, could argue impacted disproportionately by this when you think of the closure of all the exhibitions, the tours, and the, I think of musicians who derive most of their income from gigs and from the merchandise they sell at gigs, not being able to do any of that.

[00:15:16] And so there’s a, and thankfully in many countries, huge ecosystems that are, that are being built. And in fact, we are part of it, some of those conversations and trying to connect dots at the same time artists in the cultural field. In a way I’m more prepared than others in a strange way, because we all pray to the cultural fields oftentimes against the winds of change against the prevailing.

[00:15:41] In this case, for example, a sort of relentless search for, uh, economic liberalism and because artists and the cultural crowd, try to put these things in context, try to challenge, try to speak truth to power, try to imagine new futures when you’re confronted with a new future. You’re already, you know, artists and not all cultural organizations, but a lot of the artists, I would say in design as an architect and urbanists, it’s another.

[00:16:07] Uh, perhaps a slightly more able to pivot because they already live in the realm of possibilities where sometimes we close off some possibilities because we think this is the path, but the path we’ve developed either on our own or with people who think like us.

[00:16:21]Nir Hindi: [00:16:21] listeners obviously cannot see my face, but I’m smiling from one side to the other because in one of my latest talk I spoke about what are some of the things that we need to learn from artists. And one of them is their ability to deal with ambiguity and uncertainty and be able to expose yourself and be vulnerable to the reality. And as you said, kind of adjust while the reality is moving.

[00:16:46] The thing about diversity, in a way lacking in the business world, as you mentioned, You often see companies that are built by people that coming from same city studying same business school or study the same, even in a way I would say degree or in, by that trying to drive innovation, creativity, et cetera.

[00:17:08] While in arts, I think the only common thing is the language of art all the other aspects are open.  Nicole, before we move into the role of art, let’s take a short break. And we’ll come back in a second.

[00:17:31] Hey listeners. Welcome back to our conversation with Nico, Nico. I want to kind of continue our discussion and ask you. About the roleof art.

[00:17:40] Now, often in the business world, executives are looking for action reaction. If I put A, I get B, if I will invest that type of a or that amount of money, I will get probably that percentage of results.

[00:17:54] Always we are being measured, inputs, VS output  but with art it is almost impossible to do so. Why do you think we always think about action reaction and why in art we cannot actually do it?

[00:18:06] Nico Daswani: [00:18:06] You know, I think the current three months, the last three months we’ve had have been from your fascinating, in terms of understanding the role of art in a way, I think many people have missed the ability to go to an exhibition, go to a show, go to, you know, watch a movie at a movie theater.

[00:18:23] I mean, the things actually we take for granted, which in many ways, if you accumulate experiences over time, you realize that they. Usually form a huge part of who you become, right? I mean, the books that you read as a kid, the series that you start to love and cherish the, the films, the theater, the, those formative moments, even if you’re not a, an art kid, if you want to put it that way, or kid on the art track, we realized that culture is so fundamental to who we are.

[00:18:50] In this Corona virus period I found it fascinating to see how much we have longs for that moment of shared experience. And then we’ve actually filled that gap with binge consuming, online creative content. We’ve gone to Netflix content and to virtual concerts and in a way it’s helped us see, and I helped many people see that that arts and culture are oxygen for society.

[00:19:12] They are actually the kind of almost invisible force that allows us to actually function and to collaborate and to enable us to live together and to imagine the possibility together. I mean, you think about some of these incredible big cities. Sometimes I wonder the wonder of the infrastructure that allows these cities as subways, all these things to make it work in a given day.

[00:19:37] I think culture and the arts are the same. They have the same kind of quality in making our lives, what they are. And so I think when you, when you think about something so broad, it’s difficult to see impact or to see a return on investment. I mean, it’s like love, right? I mean, what’s the, how do you quantify love?

[00:19:53] And

[00:19:54] Nir Hindi: [00:19:54] I like it. I love it.

[00:19:57] Nico Daswani: [00:19:57] I mean, it’s like, how, how would you. Talk about, I mean, we even have trouble talking about how we love someone, right? I mean, so there’s there, it reminds us that they are intangibles in life. And that in a world that is increasingly about being able to show results, that there are different paradigms.

[00:20:12] And that in fact, we live in many different paradigms at once. We live know we have jobs and we have to deliver, or there’s a stock market. There’s, there’s a global economy.  But it doesn’t have to exclude it doesn’t have to exclude the, the, the more human, more personal, less intelligible, but not less powerful aspects of our lives.

[00:20:33] And so for me, there’s been a movement. Yeah. I’d say over the last decade or even more in the, in the arts, in the US in particular and others to really try to quantify any arts, because there’s been a lot of pressure. From funders to say, well, you know, we’re going to give you this money, but you have to reach this many people for your show.

[00:20:49] And so, Oh, we’ll book, big blockbuster exhibit or shows with very famous artists and, you know, you have to pay for those artists. And so, and you have to pay for those big buildings that you have. And so the tickets, you know, the cheap seats and no longer cheap, I don’t know of any major concert hall, a place where they are need cheap seats that most people can actually afford.

[00:21:09] And so we’ve gotten into a space. Where, because we are trying to respond to a certain kind of paradigm. We are sometimes losing the we’re denaturing, why we do what we do in culture. So this is a really important time. It’s almost ground zero for the cultural community, as there’s been this pause to be thinking well, what is it we’re doing?

[00:21:30] Are we actually working in the service of the community? Are we working in the service or self preservation? Um, how do you come to a healthy, to a healthy balance where yes, you are sustainable as an institution financially, but you are first and foremost concerned with enabling a sustainable ecosystem where artists diverse communities are all.

[00:21:54] And audiences are all engaged in the process of creation, of learning, of exposition, of discussion. So that cultural spaces that were founded with the idea of being spaces of community building can return to that, to that ethos. And, um, we’re a part of many of these conversations with our colleagues, um, from the cultural sector.

[00:22:15] And it’s a big moment of soul searching, but what it means now to be a cultural institution, And to support, actually, we realized to support artists because all of this content, all of these exhibitions, they’re all. I mean, except for the, for the core collection of these museums and others, it comes from nurturing and the creativity, and it means from a very young age, nurturing the creative confidence.

[00:22:37] And enabling a pipeline where it’s not just artists that are creative, the whole community feels a sense of investments in imagining the future.

[00:22:46]  Nir Hindi: [00:22:46] when I listening to you speaking, it’s like I easily, I can imagine a business leader speaking about, you know, values and purpose of the company and kind of why we do what we do.

[00:22:58] And how we make sure that we create an environment that people feel fulfilled that feel that human in it. It’s kind of things that I feel that as you mentioned, we need to go back in a way to the human aspect of it.  obviously it’s bringing me to a topic requires a broader discussion, but what is the role of art in your opinion, maybe one or two things that you have in mind?

[00:23:23] Nico Daswani: [00:23:23] You know, it’s such a, it’s such a broad question. I, I, for me, it’s such a fundamental, I think of art now. I think a lot as a public good, but I think that art as a term is very loaded. A lot of people will will say, why do you need to subsidize art? It’s a bunch of rich people who buy and sell a commodity and other people will think about art as you know, their kids being creative and imagine the world.

[00:23:46] So the word art means many different things to many different people. And it’s been one of the reasons I think why the arts particularly have, have often fallen by the wayside in some places, in terms of the investments. Although now, you know, I mean, it was incredible. A few weeks into the coronavirus Germany put in 15 billion B uh, to support small businesses.

[00:24:08] And that included also small arts organizations and artists. Uh, Switzerland, tiny country, really in terms of population, 8 million people invested 218 million to support artists and smaller arts organizations. So there’s this, this interesting dynamic again, where we take it for granted when we don’t have it, we go back to it.

[00:24:26] But I do think of it as a public good in the sense that it is about creating. Bridges. It is about getting people in a space of reflection and a space of creation. And for me, that’s different, very different from, you know, the auto as a commodity. Which gets bought and sold in the art market, which is it’s it’s, it’s, it’s its own thing.

[00:24:48] Um, we work with, um, folks who are developing, uh, who are developing leadership programs for young artists in South Africa. And I mean, these are. Incredible projects that that can have such an impact on the person’s life. So that’s in that sense that I think of art, but perhaps the art with an S, which is more encompassing than the idea of the visual arts, uh, the arts, as in theater and film and literature and music, and all the arts with a broad A as being a public good.

[00:25:19] We have to do a better job in the arts community about talking about it that way. Rather than only trying to make the case as, as is the case in some areas that the arts have a, an economic benefit. Of course they do. Of course. I mean, look, there’s, you know, we realize the creative industries employ millions of people in some countries it’s , 10, 15% of the workforce.

[00:25:43] Um, for me, those are, those are additional points to bring, to bear to the importance of what culture is the, that’s not the central point because if that’s the central point, the problem is that we can be flavor of the month. This month, the next month. And industry will say that they could have a 25% or 30%.

[00:26:01] And so that’s gone. So we have to continue to believe in the fundamental value of the arts. That’s also a very loaded term, but, um, Because art for art’s sake can mean for some people that it’s disconnected from society that is just, it’s just the artist and their creation. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t necessarily have a social, a social conscience and it’s, it’s just to be sold.

[00:26:27] And, you know, I, I almost don’t even want to wain into that because that is a that’s its own


[00:26:32] Nir Hindi: [00:26:32] whole different discussion.

[00:26:34] Nico Daswani: [00:26:34] Yeah. I mean, art for art’s sake. Yes. In the sense that it’s not trying to necessarily. It’s like education for education’s sake in that sense is like, yes, education and the right kind of education can give you the right kind of put education in its own.

[00:26:50] Is it public good? It’s a human rights. It’s about being learning to, to not just to read and to write, but also to develop your creative and your critical thinking skills and so in a way there’s something very human from the mental to it. So in that sense, in the sense, in the same sense as education for education’s sake and not just education.

[00:27:08] So that you can get the best job, which of course is also very important. I’m not debating that, but in that sense, yes. Art for art sake in that context. Yes.

[00:27:16]Nir Hindi: [00:27:16] I think the, in the, in the forum, corporates leaders make connections and by osmosis learn about the ideas leading the world into the future. I think that’s the whole point.

[00:27:26] It’s kind of a melting point for ideas and opinion.    And for me on a personal level, art was always a path for the future. Not only a resemblance of the present by kind of putting or creating the barrier, or at least helping us to define the unknown and make it into known an artists in a way are trained to carve this path in other ways to the future.

[00:27:52] And you already talk about that, then you already. Operating around this topic. Can you elaborate? How do you see these, this ability of artists kind of curving the way into the future?

[00:28:06] Nico Daswani: [00:28:06] Yeah. You know what I mean? Let me start by saying that. Sometimes we think that, you know, artists, business leaders collaborate more with artists, they would get better outcomes.

[00:28:14] I’m not so sure that’s necessarily the case. So certainly from a, from a business perspective, I mean, you see some extraordinarily brilliant people who run businesses and who run teams and have incredible, uh, outcomes to what they do. I think what an artist brings is just a different way of looking at things.

[00:28:29] And in a way by making art and the arts, less of an instrument towards more productivity for more, as a way to open up a different way of looking at things, that’s when a business leader gets the best of both worlds in a way. So it doesn’t mean that necessarily a business leader has to think like an artist.

[00:28:46] I mean, that sounds nice concept, but vice versa, it doesn’t necessarily mean that an artist has to think like a business person, but by bringing each other in contact, by learning from each other’s processes, by understanding the pressures, I mean, you know, for, for me, when we bring cultural leaders to one of our events, They always say to me, the artist that is so fascinating for them to understand what’s top of mind with these business leaders to understand the pressures that they’re under to understand that actually it’s so much more complex than it might appear from outside.

[00:29:14] And that people have to make tradeoffs and make decisions that they know are not. What they want them to be or perfect, but they still have to make decisions. And the expression is lonely at the top, you know, because it’s, it’s a complex complex world and the artists also have their own ways of thinking layered weight.

[00:29:33] And so the extent to which you can find moments for these worldviews, are these not even worldviews, but to mix and merge and match? I would say would, uh, you know, can be, can be very important. I think the role of imagination is critical. There was actually a Harvard business review article that came out just to.

[00:29:53] A couple of months ago, which was saying actually in this time with coronavirus, it’ll be normal for most leaders, business or others to get into a kind of siege mentality, fight, or flight response, which is natural right? I mean, your business might go under yeah. You have salaries to pay. So that’s normal.

[00:30:11] But that it’s really important in this moment in time when there’s so much uncertainty. And oftentimes when there’s so much uncertainty, the tendency could be to just retreat and wait and see, which is perhaps also the right approach. Um, but this HBR article was saying, you know, this is the time to actually think about the things that we can all think about before. So, you know, what can we do now that we could not do before?

[00:30:34] And I don’t mean that in a flippant way, way. I mean that, like, you know, you have those pressures, you have salaries to pay, you have your company to stay afloat. Can you actually now use that moment to use your creative power to think in areas that you had never thought about before. This is where, you know, collaboration with other sectors bringing in artists. That’s when it can be helpful because it’s a, it’s about a mindset. So in that sense, I think imagination is very, you see it as very useful in times like these, like we need to think totally out of the box.

[00:31:05] I mean, most of us have no idea how this is going to pan out.  so for me . This time is stretching my creative output more than anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. And I still feel like, I don’t know what’s going on.

[00:31:16]Nir Hindi: [00:31:16] all the consultancy firm and thought leaders, everyone speaking about reimagining. Imagining, thinking about the future. And I think exactly, that’s kind of, I agree with you. I don’t think that the business leader need to be an artist just like, I don’t want an artist to be a business person.

[00:31:31] I want them to have this conversation so we can be better.   And one of the things that you also talk about, it’s not only imagination is also creating narratives.  how do you see narratives and what is the importance of narratives in art and why do you think it’s relevant for business?

[00:31:47] Nico Daswani: [00:31:47] You know, I think narrative is one of those forces that is again invisible, but that it has a huge impact on our lives and society and how economies work.

[00:31:55] You even have Robert Shiller the Nobel prize winner, who talks about economic narratives. And this kind of grew out in the last few years of this idea that, you know, there is no homo economic economics there, there isn’t really this idea that people act rationally and in their, in their, in their own interest, you know, that was debunked.

[00:32:11] Uh, several years ago to say, well, actually we all we’re animals. And we, we make decisions based on feelings and based on things that sometimes are short term. And a lot of that is fed by narratives it’s narratives that we start to believe in the things that become just a late motive of our, of our lives, of the things that we just take for granted.

[00:32:30] And so narratives are incredibly powerful. And this is why also culture is so powerful because culture is one of the main reasons how we create narratives. I think about issues of inclusion and diversity, when, uh, people of color or women talk about the, how they’re depicted in film over 40, 50, 60 years, you start to realize on the one hand, yes.

[00:32:53] Maybe that’s a reflection of society. But you can equally, you could argue that these are reinforcing images and narratives that create the social contract between people. And so these great movements for social equity, uh, have tried to break these so deeply entrenched narratives, uh, which we take for granted, which we take flippantly, which can come across in a comments or in a way that we do things.

[00:33:20] Um, and that in fact contributes to structured exclusion, continuing. And so narratives are in a way on the, on the is where some of these battles for hearts and minds can get won or lost. You have the evidence, you have the science, you need to be able to demonstrate things, but without the narrative, without having a group of people imagine a different kind of way of seeing the world,  I don’t think we move forward.

[00:33:45] One example is one artists that we work with wanuri Kahiu, she’s just an incredible artist. She’s a filmmaker. And, um, she’s from Kenya and she made a film called Rafiki and Rafiki is the story is a lot. It’s a lesbian mother. It’s a lot of time between two women as beautiful film. And it was banned by the government before, because it was, uh, I believe it was sort of decency rules is considered decency rules, but interestingly it wasn’t banned.

[00:34:12] Because it was a gay film, it was banned because it was a gay joyous film because there was no redemption in the film because the, these two women who love each other. Actually our joyful and one where we decided to fight the ban. Um, mainly because, and she said, if people who are gay and lesbian, don’t see themselves ever anywhere represented in a way or in a manner of living that they can identify with.

[00:34:39] So in other words, if all the narratives of people who are gay are tragic. How are we ever going to as a community?

[00:34:46] Nir Hindi: [00:34:46] Change the perception about it

[00:34:47] Nico Daswani: [00:34:47] that it’s possible. Yeah. So, you know, now to just fundamental and, you know, there’s the campaigns. Um, but I think narrative for me, what I’ve learned is narratives need to be embraced by a lot of people, for them to mature and then become movements.

[00:35:04] Uh, the campaign only goes so far. It can, it maybe raises awareness. It still has impact. But it might die down after a while because the next crisis comes over when does an upsurge. And when people start to see themselves represented and what people start to see injustice and feel ownership for that injustice, even if it’s not fun.

[00:35:23] And then I think you, you start to shift, you know, there’s this term in economics called the Overton window and it was, it was quite well it’s coined based on this guy, Overton, who was a lobbyist. And who basically said to, and he was a conservative obvious, and he said, look, in order for you to pass legislation, that currently seems too extreme.

[00:35:43] You need to get the conversation along to the place where by the time you’re positioning this legislation, it doesn’t seem extreme. And so in other words, you actually have to be more, much more extreme now in what you say and what you do so that when you are ready to put the legislation. It’s within the window of acceptable discourse.

[00:36:00] So it’s very strategic and people on the left use it, people on the right. Use it by saying sometimes outlandish what seems like outlandish policies. But then by making that thing outlandish, when you say something that’s slightly less outlandish. It actually seems a bit more reasonable. And so, you know, these are all part of narrative shaping narrative building.

[00:36:18] Nir Hindi: [00:36:18] You did something about it because you took the importance of narrative and you created the narrative lab, which by the way, I love the name Narrative lab. Can you tell us a bit about what is the narrative lab, why you created it, what you expected. To happen.

[00:36:35] Nico Daswani: [00:36:35] Yeah. This was actually an idea of Lynette Walworth, who is one of our most cherished, closest collaborators and an extraordinary artist.

[00:36:43] One of, one of the great artists of this world Lynette saw firsthand through collaboration that we had and presenting some of our homeworks, in fact, commissioning and producing some of her works, which have gone on to have incredible impact on, on legislation. Yeah. And garnering any awards, et cetera. She saw how having access to the world economic forum.

[00:37:04] And if you were able to, to bring high quality work, you could really help shape narratives. And she, you know, but we did this in an ad hoc way. I mean, basically you create an exhibition or installation, and then you hope that there’s some sort of impact. But, so we tried to be more deliberate about it. And so, uh, over the course of several years and in collaboration with the Ford foundation, which has provided major funding for this, we’ve developed what we call the new narratives lab.

[00:37:29] And this was intentionally it’s intentionally a program. It’s a leadership program, basically that supports. Wonderful artist. I mentioned Wanuri Kahiu. Just now she’s one of our fellows who are incredible artists, but are from end off from underrepresented communities, which oftentimes mean that they just don’t have the access and the resources that others may take for granted.

[00:37:52] And we’ve chosen and selected people who I have a leadership desire and who show leadership. A capability. If we can support the leadership, it’s not an artistic journey. As much as the leadership journey of these incredible artists to help them shape marriages, that can have incredible impact in the communities and beyond then you should do that.

[00:38:14] And so, so this started as a, as a pairing. sort of a mentor fellow program, which is fantastic. And so, so we’ve got, we’ve got artists there, they’re all women. Uh, they, and they, most of them have had some experience with the world economic forum. So they start to know and understand that platform.

[00:38:31] And we are now with Coronavirus, we’ve had to shift a lot of our programming and it’s become a. A virtual sort of an online six months leadership curriculum where we bring them in contact with some incredible leaders. Some of it for very specific reasons like media trainings and conflict negotiation training, but also some of is, uh, hearing from other leaders.

[00:38:51] Who’ve had to navigate these circles of power in a way coming quote unquote from the outside, because there is a real sophistication to how you shape narratives. From circles of power, you know, it’s one thing to go and shout and say, this is how it should be, and that has its own value, but there’s also in parallel and other way, which is to bring people in, to draw people, to draw leaders into your narrative.

[00:39:17] And that is a very sophisticated thing. And so we were pairing up these wonderful fellows with. Very experienced members of the culturally diverse network, people who, who quote unquote made it in, not just in the arts, but in terms of really being at that place at the table where they can really influence the conversations with the presidents, with the business leaders.

[00:39:37] And so it’s been an incredible project is the first year that we’re doing it and we’re learning fast because of course, coronavirus changes. Many things, including showing us how important this is, uh, even more important when we see how coronavirus has exacerbated and has manifested the inequalities.

[00:39:55] And so when we even more of a commitment to supporting these incredible fellows,

[00:40:00] Nir Hindi: [00:40:00] well maybe in the the future, we can do another kind of podcast with them to hear from them about the narrative lab, Nico, before we continue to discuss the role of art in education, why it’s important, let’s take a short break.

[00:40:16] Thanks for coming back. I’m speaking here with Nico, the Head of Art and Culture at the world economic forum. And now we are getting into the topic that often kind of, I think touches everyone because everyone either was a student, either has kids in the education system, either. There are business leaders that are looking for their future employees and they want to understand  the importance of the skills and competencies and capabilities that we develop in the education system. the forum deals quite often with the future of work and the fourth industrial revolution, the forum published a very famous research. I love these beautiful Instagram movies that you do around automation and the fourth industrial revolution.

[00:40:59] And you kind of constantly explore the skills and capabilities we need. Now automation enters the work environment and influences many jobs. In a way. I always say we are entering into a decade to upleveling the human and fulfilling his or her potential.  business leaders agree as well as the different surveys show.

[00:41:21] For example, PWC series that showed that almost 80% of business leaders find it difficult. To find creativity and innovation skills they need,   and while we praise and want the STEM, science, technology, engineering, and math skills   leaders still see it as important, but they start to emphasize more the soft skills, including creativity as something even more important.

[00:41:48]  And I want to ask you a Nico, what is the role of art in preparing the future workforce?

[00:41:54] Nico Daswani: [00:41:54] Yeah, look, I mean, this is such a fundamental aspect of, of life and society. And, um, in fact, you know, the, the, the future of jobs report on the forum from 2018 showed that, uh, I think it was, uh, in the list of top 10 skills that CEOs look for in new recruits.

[00:42:10] Creativity came third, I think critical thinking came second. Or I, um, I I’d have to go back to the report, but it’s certainly in the top, top three for where some of these skills, um, There’s you know, raging debates about, about this. And of course, when, when there are budget cuts, uh, art education is the first to go and it’s seen, it’s seen as not something that you can measure.

[00:42:33] And it’s not seen as, as core to the, to the STEM disciplines, which of course are so incredibly useful and important for young people to develop skills for the, for the future workforce. There has been a movement for more than a decade, uh, to, to make it STEM, to STEAM, to add the a, you know, and, and, and think of the arts as part of that more holistic approach.

[00:42:54] But even within that, there’s been debate because some people say, well, you know, it shouldn’t just be that arts education is just about making you better at maths. Uh, some people say it should, because with the create that ability to think creatively, maybe you think about engineering differently and sciences differently.

[00:43:09] And some people just say, no, it’s part of, it’s just part of a better well-rounded young person to really be comfortable with science and be comfortable with arts. And because we don’t know what the world’s is going to be like, but we, what we perhaps do know is that we need people who are, um, well, some people to be slightly less.

[00:43:28] Quote, unquote experts and more generalists, more having that beginner’s mindset. And that beginner’s mindset is really hard to have, especially when you become good at something. And when you become an expert, I mean, some of this is some of the, some of the issues we have with some of the lack of coordination in some of the response to some of the crisis, because you’ve got certain kinds of experts and other kinds of experts in people.

[00:43:46] You know, it’s a human nature. As you become better, I’m better at something. And it’s hard to then adopt that kind of humility to say, Oh, I haven’t. I hadn’t thought about this or this. Yeah. So I think, you know, um, I hope, you know, the coronavirus crisis, if anything has shown again. Critical importance of teachers.

[00:44:07] I think of myself included. We seen how difficult it is to be a teacher for a couple of months and, uh, even more respect to, to all the good teachers, uh, and the work that they do is just so fundamental. And, um, I think for kids it’s, for me, it’s about, it’s about creative confidence. It’s about believing that it’s possible.

[00:44:26] You know, we grow up and our frontal cortex develops and, and then we get into situations where we see that things are actually not likely. Um, and it’s very quick that we go into the “yes, but”, and I think arts education helps nurture the “yes and” it helps. It helps kids believe, believe that that, that it’s possible.

[00:44:48] But also that. They can do it whatever their background, whatever,  what the structure that they have at home, whatever , inequality exists, uh, you know, compared to peers, uh,  it’s a, it’s a way for people to develop their confidence. It’s also, you know, as we think about diversity, we all express ourselves differently.

[00:45:08] Yeah, some people, uh, you know, maybe it’s considered sometimes disabilities. Sometimes I like to think of it as just different abilities, but, you know, we, we are different in how we express ourselves and some people might, you know, be more quiet or more shy, but to have a way to express themselves through a creative means that is very meaningful.

[00:45:29] And that allows that. Young person to really develop and to, and to, to feel like they can make their own space in the world. So it’s really hard to overstate the importance of arts education. It is saddening to see, whenever there’s a budget cut for the two. Yeah. Lots of occasion to be cuts. I understand the logic of it and understand where the logic comes from.

[00:45:50] I just disagree with the logic. Mmm Mmm. It’s in a way we’re shooting ourselves in the foot as a society by, by not supporting young people, you know, the mess that our generation or our parents’ generation grandparents’ generation, as I’ve made in leading us into a kind of a, if you want to put it that way, uh, you know, the, the Anthropocene period, uh, we’re going to, it’s actually now on the young people to fix that.

[00:46:16] And the young people are going to fix that in a way I have to unlearn how we’ve learned, because you can’t really fix the problems with the same mindset. So in a way it’s like double trouble. If we don’t support young people, and for us as a society to be okay for a kid to just find themselves through music or through drama.

[00:46:38] Because for me, that’s what it’s about. But children feeling like they’re part of this world, assuming that there’s a place for them in this world. And, uh, but of course combined with the other skills , but it’s not exclusive. Uh, it’s not exclusive. And I think we want to support the development of the well young, well rounded critically thinking, curious minds.

[00:47:00] And I think the arts are really, really essential to them.

[00:47:03] Nir Hindi: [00:47:03] Yeah. I remember that two years ago, Jack ma the founder of Alibaba, probably one of the biggest technology conglomerates coming out of China, actually in the forum, they asked him, what do you think is important now in an era of AI and you actually talk about the art.

[00:47:19] Maybe we can listen to it. We have the recording.

[00:47:23] Jack Ma: [00:47:23] I think we should teach our kids all sports and to take, uh, the music painting. Art to making sure humans should be different from everything we teach should be different from machine. If the machine can do better, you have to think about education. It’s a big challenge.

[00:47:42] Now, if we did not change the way we teach 30 years later, it would be trouble because the way we teach that the thing we taught teach our kids are the things that past 200 years it’s knowledge based. And we cannot teach our kids to compete with machine who is smarter. We have to teach something unique.

[00:48:03] That is machine can never catch up with us

[00:48:06] Nir Hindi: [00:48:06] Nico. So we are getting into the end of our hour of conversation. And I think that one of the topics I want to discuss with you before we finish is leadership. I think that we are seeing in the last few months with the pandemic, with the elections that come in is that we need leaders and we need positive leadership more than ever.

[00:48:27] And one of the things that you do at the world economic forum. Is that you have the global leadership fellows program   in few years back together with the Columbia university school of the arts, you actually created program for those leaders. Maybe you can share with us why to bring Columbia University of the arts, why to bring arts into the future leaders and how you actually see the role of art in leadership in, in the world.

[00:48:56] Nico Daswani: [00:48:56] Yeah, that’s actually a wonderful initiative that actually predates me and in collaboration with the wonderful Carol Becker had at Columbia, the Dean there, uh, we have, um, a program at the forum called the global leadership fellowship program where people come and they, they work and there’s also a as part of their time at the forum.

[00:49:12] They also basically getting the equivalent of a degree in leadership and  I think it was a brilliant, radical move to bring this dissolve does one workshop has one week, which happens at Columbia where these, these form employees who, you know, cut across some of them are on the business side.

[00:49:28] Some of them are environmental activists. Some of them are scientists, uh, come in contact with some leading artists and do, do a week long series of workshop. And I think a lot of it is a lot of it is about finding the selves. It’s about finding an authentic self. And so it’s using these creative means that sometimes when people, a little bit out of the comfort zone, Uh, but that forces them to, you know, to, to look at themselves in a different way.

[00:49:55] And, and with the belief that that is then the spur for them to continue their career grounded, grounded in, in a sense of why they do what they do. So I think that’s the value of that program, and it have been very successful. And it’s something that our global leadership institutes and Carol has spearheaded know has been a wonderful project.

[00:50:16] I think in general, what I’ve learned, what I’ve learned in meeting business leaders and others is that leadership is hard. It’s really hard. And, you know, in my own growth as a, as a manager and leader of team, these, uh, the, these are skills that are hard. And I think the more we are open to different forms of leadership, the more we surround ourselves, I, I, I come back to this because I, what I have found over time is that I think, I think a smart leader.

[00:50:44] Uh, in addition to what everything else surrounds themselves with brilliant people, uh, including people that have been better than, and people who just have different ways of looking at the world and sometimes means that it’s, it can mean that it’s harder to make a decision or that it brings too much more complexity.

[00:51:02] But I do think that the leader can make better decisions when they are surrounded with people who have, um, who have different life experiences and not just opinions, but also life experiences. And this is where the structural diversity and inclusion is so critical to having decisions that are, that are, that are inclusive, that are not tone deaf, that are the longterm, you know, to the extent that one can.

[00:51:26] And I think, again, you know, when you, when you bring artists and people who. You would think, why is art related to leadership? But again if you imagine leadership in a broad sense, in terms of like leading opinion or leading people, and you think about the role of narratives and who it is that has a huge amount of power to shape marriages, you see that artists are leaders, they are leading the society.

[00:51:46] And again, I’m talking, I’m talking about the artists, uh, in the sense of the artists who are creating work, that is shaping public opinion. And that is one of the highest forms of leadership.

[00:51:56] Nir Hindi: [00:51:56] So we are getting into the end of our conversation, obviously you summarize so many beautiful things about why I think everyone should engage with art. And from my personal perspective, why business leaders and entrepreneurs should engage with the arts, the imagination, how to look at love. I love this metaphor, how we can measure love. Beautiful. One. I kind of want to ask you maybe Something personal.

[00:52:22] What is memorable encounter that you had during the different, um, exhibitions, conversations workshops that you had at the forum that touched you, or, you know, kind of left an impact on you?

[00:52:37] Nico Daswani: [00:52:37] Yeah, thanks for asking Nir. I mean, I, I, I just being so fortunate in this job, I’ve been here almost almost eight years, and I it’s just been incredible internally, the brilliance of the people that you work with and how you grow again from, from different, different life circumstances.

[00:52:52] And then the experiences that we’ve had been able to create. I think the. Probably the one that’s most resonant for me. And that in a way changed, changed me significantly was when we produced the first international tour of the Afghan women’s orchestra. And, um, it was a monumental project that was quote unquote impossible because, you know, bringing, bringing a group of 35 underage, uh, Afghan women to Europe and getting visas for them and, um, But we, we knew about their work.

[00:53:22] Um, we knew the founder of the school where they, where they grow. Uh, and we were talking about leadership. They were demonstrating such incredible leadership. You know, they’re playing music, you know, in a context where. Even though it’s not illegal anymore. It’s frowned upon where there’s often acid attacks, where they are.

[00:53:41] There’s a big security concern and playing music is, and especially by women is just seen as something that is , let’s just say it’s very, very dangerous. And there have been incidents against musicians and, and especially, uh, women musicians. So for them to do that and to again, to create the narrative that have the possibility for other young women, that this was possible.

[00:54:01] We want it to bring that form of leadership in contact with the kind of leadership and having downloads. We wanted it to have that, that, that moment, that electric moments. And we did, and we brought the Afghan women’s orchestra to Davos. But not just to Davos because we, again want it to be an opportunity, not just for world leaders, but also for European public.

[00:54:19] So then we produce an entire tour, which, which went around Germany and around Switzerland, where there was, um, collaboration with local musicians, school concerts. Um, and so we use, we leveraged the forum in a way influence to make this tour happen. We produced this tool, which is really difficult to pull off, but we had the right context to help us in the right expertise.

[00:54:43] And it, it just had a huge impact on me personally, just this week. So old by these women. And also realizing before, during, and after that this, you know, these are, these are real lives. These are not just concepts. You know, these people have to go back home and when they go back home, they have to deal with families and they have to deal with the media and have to, and, and they knew that.

[00:55:04] And so it really felt like a historic moment where, where, uh, especially from the side of these girls they were really putting themselves out there to make that it was just a most, perhaps the most beautiful project I’ve ever been involved in. And I still look at, you know, you asking me about leadership.

[00:55:21] I just look at the courage that these women demonstrate and, and, you know, that’s one of the great. Things about great leaders is the courage, because that is real courage. What they do, they know that they can at any time, uh, be gone basically to do what they do, but they believe in it and they want to inspire other people.

[00:55:38] And the impact of it was from a global perspective. Incredible. It was, it became a global media story, um, from an actual impact. Uh, really I think for these young women open their eyes to many new things that hadn’t been out of the country. For most of them, we have to had it been in the region. But it also had a huge impact on these leaders on the local communities that met with them, uh, over reading, meaningful encounters, over dinners and workshops.

[00:56:02] And then it had a big impact on the country. They were national news when they came back, you know, some went on to have careers as TV hosts as a result in some, so, you know, taken back by the family and said never again. So it was, it was real it’s real life. You know, when we think about the arts, we have to remember that it’s real life.

[00:56:18] It’s not just a concept. It’s not just an idea. It’s not just a pastime. It’s, it’s how we grow in our creative confidence. It’s how we shape narratives. It’s how we end up making decisions based on the things and the accumulation of experiences that we’ve had. And so, so that for me was a, was a great reminder of the power of the arts.

[00:56:37]Nir Hindi: [00:56:37] Wow. I mean, I think there’s no better ending for them conversation with such example, for courage, for beauty, for the Alvar, Nico. It was a great pleasure to talk to you and learn from you. Uh, how art is part of the world economic forum. I’m positive that the work your team and you are doing will help foster the role of art.

[00:56:59] And the importance of art. For everyone that is interested, we will put the links to your website so people can follow about your great work. And I want to say thank you for the fact that you show people that art does matter.

[00:57:14] Nico Daswani: [00:57:14] Thank you so much NIR, for hosting this, this really important program, and for inviting me to, to share, it’s been wonderful chatting with you.

[00:57:21] Thank you very much.

*the transcript was produced with the help of AI, mistakes might appear.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This