n this age of conference saturation and time deficit, I have made it a rule (which started as a New Year’s resolution five years ago) to not attend any big conferences unless I am contributing as a speaker or agenda co-creator. I broke my own rule in 2017 to attend the WorldWebForum and I keep going back each January—whether as a speaker or just as a participant. Full disclosure: I also joined the Steering Committee two years ago.
WorldWebForum also breaks many of the rules of typical business conferences out there. As Dante Disparte—Head of Policy at Libra Association and one of this year’s keynote speakers—said: WorldWebForum is “a conference in a league of its own.”
He echoes many of the C-Suite participants I have interviewed over the years. They describe the gathering as a conference that refuses to be ordinary. The CEO and Founder, Fabian Hediger could also be described as someone who is allergic to ordinary. After all, in less than a decade, he has managed to bring rock stars and trailblazers to his conference at a time when the Davos agenda drowns everything around it.
In my recent trip to Zurich, I sat down with Fabian to ask him his vision for the community he has built and what the future holds. The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
Who is WorldWebForum really for?
We appeal to leaders who want to empower radical change in their organizations, with the goal to create value that will last into the next generation.
We are attended by people who have an entrepreneurial mindset, looking to rapidly grow their own businesses to have a sustainable future or to have the influence to radically transform the strategic direction and outcomes of the corporations they lead. When we first started, we were mainly known by Swiss executives. In the last three years, due to the influence of our speakers and the appeal of our global partners McKinsey & Company, Zurich Insurance, Financial Times, and the worlds' #6 ranked university, ETH—we are seeing an increasingly international audience of executives who come from Asia, Africa, the United States, and greater Europe.
We have many delegates who come for both WorldWebForum, to get the corporate and individual perspective towards sustainable growth; and then attend the World Economic Forum annual meetings in Davos to get the policy perspectives. We often hear from these participants that we make up the “fun and inspiring” part of the trip.
What does “Empowering Radical Change” mean for you?
When people are too comfortable, they become complacent. That's how we got here with the current climate crisis. The developed world was comfortable driving huge gas-guzzlers, hyper consuming fast fashion, eating genetically modified food, and buying everything wrapped in plastic. Why do we have to wait until it's too late to change our mindsets towards creating value, rather than solely consuming it and then immediately disposing of it?
So, in a business context, we believe that comfortable complacency is a huge problem, particularly when entire workforces are going to be completely displaced with automation and AI. Our mission to Empower Radical Change is about speaking to influential business leaders as well as rising leaders of the next generation to feel confident about looking to the future; forcing themselves to innovate; pushing themselves to create value that will not only create profit for today's shareholders, but job creation and opportunities for the society at large. We believe that technology is intrinsic to this, which is reflected in the power of companies like Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Alibaba, and Alphabet.
How do you pick the topics and speakers for WorldWebForum? What informs your decisions each year?
Our north star is our mission: Empowering Radical Change. The topic is selected in close collaboration with our steering committee, and is guided by whether it raises questions and gives room for debate about how leaders can empower radical change.
We are very fortunate to have a steering committee that combines the brightest in both business and academia—including professors from Stanford, ETH, the University California, ITSM Berlin, and executives from McKinsey, Zurich, Cooley, and Diplomatic Courier. When you have these brains invested into forming the topic, you know it's going to be heavy-hitting, relevant, and a timely nod to the issues we need to be focusing on.
The speakers are then curated from there—do they directly address the mission and the topic? If yes, then we will have in depth conversations with them to ascertain they are the right fit and mix for our program.
What is the Pre-Unconference and what is the idea behind this gathering?
The idea for the pre-unconference in its current form came to life over a fondue-dinner in Laax with Marian Goodell, CEO of Burning Man, who joined us four years ago as a keynote speaker. We had invited her and some other speakers predominantly flying in from San Francisco, to the Swiss Alps a few days before the conference, to adjust to Switzerland and overcome their jetlag.
It has since become an annual gathering of returning fellows, speakers, members of our Trnsfrmrs Club and select VIPs to come together in the gorgeous alpine resort of Laax, to connect in an informal setting and really bond over technology, innovation, leadership, sustainability—over extended opportunities like dinners, ski lessons, workshops, and fireside chats. It has become an event of its own and is a deeply valued way for people to form lasting business partnerships and friendships.
What is the TRNSFRMRS Club? Who typically joins the group?
Our Trnsfrmrs club is made up of individual senior executives who really believe in our mission and take actions to regularly meet up and participate in ways that make radical transformation happen. They are the guests who want to have the one-to-one interactions with our speakers and other Trnsfrmrs, since the value they get from such meetings has profound and immediate impact on how they work.
Membership to this club gives Trnsfrmrs year-round connection to each other digitally as well as at curated events throughout the year such as workshops and roundtables; trips to corporate innovation labs across Europe, VIP-access to Zurich's annual Street Parade, the Zermatt Unplugged music festival, our pre-unconference experience in Laax, and the exclusive speaker's dinner. It's these shared experiences that really embed them as the most deeply involved members of the WorldWebForum community.
This year WorldWebForum announced a big change in how it will operate from now on. Tell us about the changes and the new goals.
Our vision is that WorldWebForum will inspire people of all means, at any time. As long as they want to learn from the leading thinkers from the world's best companies and universities—they can do so by accessing WorldWebForum’s content platform digitally.
It remains a core value that we host our annual conference in Zurich for senior executives. However, to really empower radical change, we have to open our community to those working on reaching that influential executive level—whether they are already professionals or students. We hope to empower them with the speeches, insights, and perspectives of the hundreds of speakers that have given their time to sharing their views on the WorldWebForum stage. People who join our platform will have digital access to interactive discussions with some of these speakers and each other, so that they can further the dialog and feel enriched by the content and forum.
What should we expect for WorldWebForum 2021?
We're excited to be moving to a new venue, that's rich in history and centrally located in the most colorful and vibrant area in urban Zurich. We'll be announcing a bold new concept and topic this summer, so stay tuned.