We Want Diverse Perspectives, But How Do We Get There? Lessons from The Emerging Markets Summit

By Vikram Sivakumar, Class of 2018

By Vikram Sivakumar, Class of 2018

At a networking session on the eve of the Emerging Markets Summit (EMS), I was in a crop circle with 3 people from India – the head of India’s largest incubator, an entrepreneur working with India stack (APIs that will soon support open banking like initiatives), and a chairman of one of the biggest public sector banks in India. That crop circle had the funder, the disruptor and the disrupted. The richness of this exact dialogue is what we wanted to bring to each panel at EMS. With the conference less than 12 hours away, it felt like we had achieved some part of that vision. But that journey has been extremely challenging and has taught me a lot. 

Conferences often have speakers of the same race, gender and age group for an entire day. We knew this was a common problem, and one we wanted avoid. But ensuring diversity is challenging, to say the least. Back in September, during early planning stages of the conference, we followed a three-step plan to achieve this diversity of perspective.

One, pick 20 topics worth discussing – across regions, functions, and themes.

Two, for each topic, identify speakers who can speak to these issues but also represent different parts of the value chain, age groups and geographies.

The team of 5 co-chairs had two choices in front of us. We could either quickly gain a deep understanding of these regions to curate the conference ourselves, or we could bring on board people who already understand the regions and have them work together. Needless to say, we chose the latter.

Through a quick volunteer screening process, we brought on board about 40 volunteers to help with speaker outreach. We’ve never done so many back to back interviews, but it really helped us understand each person’s background and motivations. Our teams were diverse; for example, our LATAM team had members from 6 countries, across both years and the part time program. Some were parents, others were recruiting and one was simultaneously organizing a wedding.

Team EMS on the morning of the conference

Team EMS on the morning of the conference

Working with such diverse teams was hard, but the outcome made it entirely worthwhile. The final conference brought together a varied set of 80 experts from around the world – including business leaders, government officials and entrepreneurs. We each learnt a lot more about the world than we had anticipated (the added bonus for me being that my Spanish improved marginally!). As a team, we saw our fellow students engage in rich conversations with speakers from different regions and backgrounds.

Walking away from EMS, I take away one thing. Achieving ‘diverse perspectives’ is hard. We’re all open to it. But getting there means not just being open to it but also actively seeking out a process and people who will help you get there.  

The 2018 conference had its largest edition yet. We had over 400 guests and 80 speakers. This would not have been possible without the help of my dedicated co-chairs (Linda Chelala, Betty Teshome, Veena Bontu, and Vera Uzuh), the guidance of our staff advisors (Julie Morton and Jessica Mandel), and most importantly, the fervor of the 40+ team members who have sent countless emails, made numerous phone calls, and sat in hours of meetings to make this event successful.

Vikram is busy discovering the challenges of senioritis after EMS