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One Young World summit draws big names to Pittsburgh

| Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012, 12:23 a.m.
The Bayer sign on Mount Washington is covered with a welome message for the One Young World conferece attendeesTuesday October 17, 2012 as seen from downtown. James Knox | Tribune-Review

The start on Thursday of the One Young World summit in Pittsburgh will deliver a lineup of industry titans and political celebrities rarely seen all at once.

Appearances by former President Bill Clinton and onetime U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan will bookend the four-day conference on global issues featuring 1,300 young delegates from 182 countries, starting with opening ceremonies at Heinz Hall and a party on the Clemente Bridge, Downtown.

Occupying the time in between will be Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, musician and activist Bob Geldof, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, Barclays bank CEO Antony Jenkins and Paul Polman, global CEO of consumer-goods giant Unilever. The list also includes former leaders of the Netherlands and Colombia, Bernard Kouchner, the founder of Doctors Without Borders, and singer-songwriter Joss Stone.

“Those are some really big names coming through,” said Audrey Guskey, a Duquesne University marketing professor.

Some of those attending this week's third annual event appeared at previous summits in London and Zurich, Switzerland, including Annan, Yunus, Geldof, Oliver and Polman. Others, such as Clinton, are making their first appearance.

“Personally, I am looking forward to the opening keynote speech by President Clinton the most,” said Paras Fatnani, 24, a native of India who works in London and will be attending his second summit. “I think that will make such an inspirational impact at the start to the summit which will drive a lot of positive energy.”

Organizers want “people who are capable of inspiring young people and who have interesting stories,” said One Young World cofounder Kate Robertson. They want people who can connect with young leaders, lend their expertise and hopefully leave a positive impact.

“The real miracle about it is what the delegates go off and do,” Robertson said. “There are definitely some of them who will go on and lead companies. And some will go on to lead countries.”

The celebrity and high-profile names of some speakers and the unique event itself reflect positively on Pittsburgh, said Ellen Roth, president of Getting to the Point, a Point Breeze-based relocation agency.

“This once again gives Pittsburgh tremendous international exposure,” Roth said.

Interacting with business leaders is an important part of the One Young World experience, Robertson said.

One Young World is a London-based charity founded by advertising executives Robertson, chairwoman of Havas Group, and David Jones, global CEO of Havas Worldwide. It aims to build a global network of young leaders committed to improving their communities.

Dorsey and Mashable founder/CEO Peter Cashmore are “the titans of the social media world,” Robertson said. “They are people who know better than anybody this new landscape.”

Dorsey's work with Square, a company that allows anyone with an iPhone to accept credit card payments, will have a lot to say to a “generation of people who are not in love with banks,” she said. Dorsey visited Carnegie Mellon University in September as part of a job recruiting tour.

Hosting major players in the technology industry is “really good for the overall community and image of Pittsburgh as where technology things happen,” said Jason Hong, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon's Human-Computer Interaction Institute. “While we definitely have a long way to go, we have done a lot with technology in Pittsburgh. And Jack Dorsey definitely recognized that when he visited.”

David Denis, a professor of business administration in the University of Pittsburgh's Katz Graduate School of Business, was impressed that Barclays' Jenkins would take time to attend the summit.

It should give him a platform to explain the essential role banks play in economic development worldwide, Denis said.

“A young audience like this, coming out of financial crisis with the banking sector receiving a lot of criticism … you'd like to be able to show them the value of the banking sector,” he said.

Unilever head Polman is a leader in advocating for large global corporations to run their operations more sustainably, Robertson said. Polman pledged to double Unilever's size — already the world's third-largest conglomerate with brands such as Ben & Jerry's, Dove and Lipton — but keep its carbon footprint flat.

Polman is the CEO of a “major, major corporation,” said Jeff Inman, associate dean for research at Katz. “I think it's a pretty powerful signal that this is an important event.”

Unilever, like many European companies, is “out front on sustainability initiatives,” he said. “To the extent that (the environment) is a major initiative by this group, it makes sense for him to want to be involved in it.”

The speakers also get something from the summit, Robertson said.

“They get energized by the experience,” she said. “These big, famous people are willing to leave their egos aside and let the delegates talk. When that happens, you can see the delegates' confidence grow inches.”

Jason Cato and Alex Nixon are staff writers for Trib Total Media. They can be reached at jcato@tribweb.com or anixon@tribweb.com.

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