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Global Scholars Symposium at Rhodes House

The Global Scholars Symposium (GSS) is a landmark project that Rhodes and Gates scholars collaboratively founded in 2008, which aims to connect postgraduate scholars and influencers from diverse fields and across the globe. Since the inaugural symposium, the GSS has expanded to include scholars from 51 countries and 9 prestigious scholarships, and is now opened the invitation to all postgraduate students in the U.K. The GSS is made possible by a generous endowment given by the John McCall MacBain Foundation, with the continued support from the Rhodes Trust and the Gates Cambridge Trust.

Under the theme of “Navigating Uncertainty”, this year, the symposium took place at Rhodes House, at the University of Oxford, during 11 - 13 May and brought together leaders whose professions and passions draw them towards uncertainty, or at least require them to engage with it on a regular basis. Drawing knowledge across many disciplines and themes, including the arts, science, business, political/social issues, and even mortality, the symposium provided useful tools and new approaches to dealing with uncertainty.

In his opening keynote, the first Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno Ocampo, challenged scholars to collaboratively design new institutions to tackle the crises of the 21st century world. Bringing together speakers from the banking industry, entrepreneurship and academia, the Business and Economics panel highlighted contrasting perspectives and provided rich content on universal basic income, business design and the future of banking and cryptocurrencies. Day One concluded with BNY Mellon Managing Director Lynne Marlor’s reflection on the challenges and opportunities new payment platforms and blockchain technologies have brought to the banking industries.

On Day Two, delegates reflected on what makes the human experience meaningful. Satish Modi, philanthropist and author of In Love with Death, spoke about the role of grief, joy, monety and humility in embracing life and its uncertainty. Meanwhile, the arts and humour panels collectively demonstrated the transformative power of artistic engagements for people combating with trauma and loss through humor, theatre and poetry. On the mortality panel, hearing from Hermione Elliot, end of life care provider, Professor Simon Dein, consultant psychiatrist, and Venerable Miao Lung, a buddhist Dharma teacher, delegates were reminded to connect with one another through recognising the mortality and the vulnerability of each and every one of us.

On the last day of the Symposium, Dr. Michelangelo Mangano, senior physicist at CERN, drew vivid examples from his career to illustrate how navigating uncertainty is the bedrock of the quest for knowledge. In his keynote, Dr. Mangano assured delegates that while uncertainty is typically a liability in human endeavours, the progress of fundamental science builds on uncertainty, as the main goal of science is to extend the domain of our knowledge into the unknown and the uncertain, and to quantify degrees of uncertainty of the understood phenomena. Following this thought-provoking speech, the astrophysics panel led participants to contemplate the mysteries and wonders of the outer space, while reminding them again of how humanity’s aspirations to explore the infinite universe has led to astonishing discoveries applied in everyday life. Cell phone cameras, infrared night vision, and satellite imaging and communications are among the many illustrations. In the afternoon, the Justice and Protection panel discussed the ways in which international society navigates challenges concerning responses to mass atrocities. The delegates were led to ruminate over who gets to define what protection and justice look like and whether the states and the United Nations constitute adequate vehicles for safeguarding population from gross human rights violations. The GSS concluded with Romania-based journalist Laura Stefanut’s presentation of labour exploitation under the “made in E.U” label, uncovering the ways in which women in Eastern Europe endure low pay, long hours, humiliating and gruelling work to make clothes for luxury Western brands.

GSS 2018 also provided 10 workshops led by Rhodes Scholars and guest speakers. In these small group interactions, delegates explored in-depths topics including migration, #MeToo, algorithmic decision making, strategic thinking, post-truth, universal basic income, policy advocacy, theatre of the oppressed, international criminal justice and philanthropy.

The success of GSS 2018 attests to the value of bringing scholars from diverse disciplinary and cultural backgrounds. Through heated debates and respectful disagreements, scholars deepened their understanding of the pressing social, political, cultural, scientific challenges confronting today’s global society. They were pushed to identify and acknowledge diverse and potentially contested values through engaging with their peers. They built connections and formed fellowships across institutional and disciplinary boundaries, which will fuel future projects for social change. The delegates walked away with not only words of inspiration from industry leaders, but also creative and positive approaches to navigating uncertainty, ready to embrace and capitalise on uncertainty in their own lives and pursuits. The GSS programme demonstrates the Rhodes and Gates Scholarships’ unwavering belief in the generative power of bringing together young scholars and world leaders to interrogate important and fundamental questions. The next GSS will take place in spring 2019 at the University of Cambridge.