3 Things to Watch at the Aspen Ideas Festival

Aspen Ideas Festival
Photo credit: The Aspen Ideas Festival

Tomorrow the tenth annual Aspen Ideas Festival (AIF) kicks off, welcoming leaders from around the world to engage in a real discussion on ideas and issues shaping our lives. Embracing “Imagining 2024” as this year’s festival theme, here are three things to watch this weekend:

1. The Changing Marketplace and the Future of Work

With the job market in flux and the decline of traditional employment opportunities (i.e. manufacturing), which sectors will experience long-term, sustainable growth? How can we best prepare our youth and the unemployed for these burgeoning opportunities? Moreover, how will shifting from brand-to-consumer marketing, to consumer-to-consumer marketing impact buyer behavior?

On Saturday morning, a panel entitled Who Will Define the Marketplace in Our Future featuring Andrew McAfee, Mark Schlageter, David Weinberger, and Derek Thompson in a discussion on how our economy will be influenced by open networks which offer platforms to customers for ideas, products, and innovation. With consumers recommending or advocating for products, opportunities, and services to one another, networks are playing a vital role in our economy, overshadowing traditional brand marketing and advertising.

The Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa (DJA) initiative is exploring how the emergence of online work has disrupted the traditional workplace and improving livelihoods for those who lacked access to quality jobs before. With the sector estimated to grow by $5 billion by 2015, the promise of online work offers employers a more efficient and cost-effective source of skilled workers, and greater social and financial opportunities for the growing digital workforce around the world.

2. Resilience and Cities

According to the World Health Organization, the population in urban areas is undergoing massive transformation. In the early 20th century, two out of every ten people lived in an urban area. As of 2010, that number climbed to five out of every ten people, and by 2030 it’s predicted to jump to six out of every ten people. With this increased stress on our cities, urban landscapes are becoming the focal point for rethinking health, safety, energy, economy, and productivity (part of the Foundation’s impetus for launching the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge last year).

Philip Kennicott of The Washington Post will engage Rockefeller Foundation president Judith Rodin in a conversation on how the resilience dividend can help cities invest in initiatives that can minimize the disruptive effects of chronic shocks and stresses, while simultaneously creating jobs, social cohesion, and equity.

3. The Sharing Economy

A different, yet equally exciting marketplace phenomenon is how society now shares its assets, or rather, the things we as individuals own. If I had to choose one concept most buzzed about in the last year, and most exciting to me personally, it would be the sharing economy. For the development space, this holds tremendous potential for the poor and vulnerable, helping grow more inclusive economic systems, instead of only creating concentrated individual wealth.

In January 2013, a Forbes article estimated that revenue flowing through the sharing economy to individuals would surpass $3.5 billion this year—growth upwards of 25 percent. Technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship are implicit partners in this story, and working together in an unparalleled way.

To explore how the sharing economy is redefining both the marketplace and our sense of community, Jennifer Bradley will lead Brian Chesky in an in-depth look. Through the dramatic rise of Airbnb, participants will gain insights into how businesses play a critical role in shareable—and perhaps more livable—cities. The sharing economy’s emphasis, or de-emphasis rather, on ownership could be a unique solution in addressing urban disparity.

At a global level, we’re seeing more innovation than ever before. Many of these changes affect the ways in which we work, live, share, and sustain our communities. Some of the topics being discussed at the Aspen Ideas Festival—and specifically the three mentioned above—reflect conversations being had at local and global levels about rapidly shifting norms. AIF’s ability to provide an open forum to continue to engage on these topics is an exciting opportunity to move the needle on today’s pressing issues.

With the festival officially opening tomorrow, I’m excited to see where the conversations can take us.


Rehana Nathoo is an Aspen Ideas Scholar. Join the conversation on Twitter with hashtag #AspenIdeas.

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