With questions of climate change and energy consumption weighing heavily on the planet, organizations and communities around the world are searching for innovative solutions; at the same time, more and more businesses and entrepreneurs are integrating sustainable and socially progressive elements into their projects. From September 20th to 23rd, Provence hosted 20 young international leaders that are deeply committed to these types of initiatives. The leaders discovered trailblazing businesses, pioneering research centers, and ambitious projects devoted to issues such as the energy transition, innovative therapies, and urban renewal. Now, these influential global leaders are sharing their thoughts about what they discovered in the dynamic new Provence.
The members of the delegation that visited Aix-Marseille-Provence are young international leaders with expertise in a diverse range of fields such as finance, fashion, health, telecommunications, and sustainable development. For the most part, they are under the age of 40 and belong to World Economic Forum initiatives such as the Young Global Leaders, the Technology Pioneers, and the Global Future Councils. During their three days in Provence, these executives, journalists, and scientists toured major sites across the territory, met with key local authorities, and attended unique events such as the SailGP race that was held in the bay of Marseille.
For several of the delegates, the visit dispelled notions that Marseille was a traditional, rough-at-the-edges port city. For example, the financial services expert Martin Bruncko was surprised by what he saw as he toured the metro area. “I found a truly modern sea metropolis that seems to be going through a huge renewal, is plugged into the global cutting edge, and has a really fun and pleasant city center and seafront.”
Marseille is undergoing one of Europe’s most remarkable urban transformations and the visitors were able to observe this phenomenon from La Marseillaise, the mixed-use tower in the Euroméditerranée district that was designed by the architect Jean Nouvel. During meetings with Marc Pietri, the president of Constructa, the firm that built the tower, and various entrepreneurs from the Euromed 2 extension of the district, the visitors expressed a particular interest in the Ici Marseille and Modus Aedificandi projects.
Offering fresh perspectives on Provence
The ambitious and dynamic new Provence with its range of state-of-the-art global projects was placed in the spotlight with the help of the territory’s major stakeholders such as thecamp innovation center, the Port of Marseille-Fos, the Euroméditerranée district, the Cité de l’Innovation et des Savoirs at Aix-Marseille University, and the UPE 13 business club. On the agenda was a debate on how to best preserve marine ecosystems organized by the Pure Ocean fund; a presentation by Dr. Nicolas Levy of Giptis, the Genetics Institute for Patients, Therapies, Innovation, and Science; a discussion with the researcher Joël Guiot on climate change; and an explanation of the Port of Marseille’s new sustainable energy and digital port infrastructure. The goal was to capture the interest of these young leaders, and the operation appears to have been a success.
Arup Ganguly, a London-based entrepreneur and corporate director, was especially impressed by the diversity of initiatives and opportunities connected with the cutting-edge urban development projects in the territory. “More impressive was the theme of sustainability that linked all the ideas presented,” explained Mr. Ganguly. “If Provence can become a hub for great minds to come together, then I look forward with great excitement to the potential for world-changing output.” The Swedish entrepreneur Claudia Olsson saw the same potential in Provence. “For entrepreneurs that are passionate about building solutions for our global challenges, Marseille can serve as a future-oriented platform where talent from the public and private sector meets, co-creates, and accelerates the most impactful solutions,” said Ms. Olsson.
The issues discussed during the visit correlate with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) debated at the World Economic Forum and that are central to the work of the United Nations Development Programme, goals that the Aix-Marseille-Provence metro area fully supports.
Enlightening discussion and positive feedback
The diversity of the scheduled events led to an inspiring range of discussions. From presentations by successful emerging companies such as Searoutes or MktxDatos to conversations with entrepreneurs from the Make the Choice program during a gathering at Château Ricard, the potential for creativity and innovation in Aix-Marseille-Provence was on full display.
Emma Smith, the Chief Operating Officer for a French company operating in the African market, was delighted to meet so many French/African entrepreneurs. “Through programs like AfricaLink, no doubt, in the years to come, the world will watch as this beautiful region takes on an important role on the global stage,” said Ms. Smith.
As a result of the delegation’s visit, several investment projects are already being considered in sectors such as healthcare, the environment, and urban development.
Birgit Liodden, a Norwegian expert in the maritime and ocean industries, was enthusiastic about the territory’s potential. “It was extremely relevant and inspiring to see a span of the sustainability-oriented ocean innovation focus coming out of Marseille,” said Ms. Liodden. “I also see great opportunities for strengthening the ties between our countries ahead, especially in terms of the next generation and entrepreneurial areas.”
Sumit Jamuar, the CEO of Global Gene Corp, also announced his interest in working in the territory to help build ecosystems that facilitate innovation and job creation.
The delegates will discuss their visit to Aix-Marseille-Provence during the next major meeting of the Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2020.