Newark woman set to create 'hub' of young leaders to help city

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on August 18, 2015

 

The subject field of the email contained words intriguing enough for Kimberlee Williams to open it.

It's not everyday you see something as eye-catching as "Global Shapers Community."

Though it didn't ring a bell for Williams, the Newark social entrepreneur kept reading when she realized the email was not spam, but directed specifically to her.

"Dear Kimberlee," it began.

Manuel Wachter, an associate director of this global outfit, was writing to her from Switzerland – nearly 4,000 miles away. He was interested in Newark and believed, following some research, that Williams was the right person to help identify promising young leaders in the city.

"Man, this is awesome,'' she says, "How did they find me?"

Global Shapers Community, an initiative of the World Economic Forum, has international hubs that bring together promising young leaders, ages 20 to 29, to help improve the world by solving problems in their communities.

The organization wants to launch a hub in Newark, and it chose Williams, 40, as a founding curator to get the work started when she returns this week from Geneva.

She's in Switzerland for 10 days, meeting with more than400 plus leaders from other hubs, including top officials of the organization and ambassadors from several countries.

The World Economic Forum, an institution through which members of the Global Shapers meet, is serious business. Notable figures, including heads of state, and corporate and civil society leaders, gather here to work on policy issues.

And now Newark, represented by Williams, has a seat at the table for this Global Shapers Community conference – to make the city one of its 456 hubs around the world. A look on the website's drop-down menu shows you just how far the organization reaches out to young people to make a difference.

There are hubs in Albuquerque and Algiers, Baltimore and Bangkok, Calgary and Casablanca, Dubai and Detroit.

You get the picture.

Organizers say Newark was selected, in part, because it is the most populated New Jersey municipality, which is a preference when a new hub is being formed. But there were other reasons, too.

"Being an important communication hub in New Jersey, and a city with a rich and diverse history of youth engagement, Newark was picked as the first city in its state to have the Global Shapers Community representation,'' says  Anastasia Kalinina, associate director of the World Economic Forum, in an email.

And, of Williams, she says: "As a forward-thinking social entrepreneur, with more than 15 years of business development experience in multicultural markets, and as a community leader, Kimberlee Williams was ... perfect for the role.''

Williams is the chief executive officer of FEMWORKS, a Newark-based communications agency that helps cities transform their image. Services that she provides run the gamut, but her company is noted for the rebranding of the Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, a once-blighted downtown Newark neighborhood in the Lincoln Park section of the city near Symphony Hall. It is now home to a music festival drawing 50,000 people every year.

In 2013, Williams produced TEDxBroadStreet, a global forum held in Newark that generated conversation on how to revitalize the city. More recently, Williams' company has created a program to develop a Newark media and arts hub, supported by Rutgers Business School. 

With Global Shapers, Williams joins diverse ranks. There are entrepreneurs, researchers, artists, doctors, policy makers, farmers, teachers and politicians among its members.

By November, Williams is expected to have 15 young people in place from Newark to identify an issue and begin working on a solution over the next year. These solutions are as varied as the places they are carried out. This year, for instance, the hub in Ghana worked on a project to provide shoes for school children.

"It's all about getting young people to appreciate collaboration and to work together on a project of their choosing that they feel is of magnitude for them to work on together,'' Williams says. "It has to be a business-related solution, but this solution is one that also solves a social problem.''

When Williams returns, she'll spread the word, and then it's on until she finds the inaugural class of leaders for Newark.

Those she's looking for to fill out her hub? Stakeholders who represent business, government or politics, academia, civil society, science, arts and culture, she says.

Anyone interested can attend an information session from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 14 at Rutgers Business School, orYou can also apply at globalshapers.org/apply or direct questions to newark@globalshapers.org.

There's tons of information to get you started thinking globally.  All of it as intriguing as that email Williams took a chance on opening.

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