Categorized as: , , , , , on June 8, 2019.


The attendees of NEXUS Asia 2019 Summit, photo courtesy of Yudai Ishibashi.

By Brienne Skees, Program Officer and VP of Research and Data Management

Editor’s Note: In their own words, NEXUS catalyzes new leadership and accelerates solutions to global problems. Their mission is to connect, inspire, and activate exceptional social innovators and the next generation of influential families around the world. When you ask, “What is NEXUS?” their answer is simple: “We are NEXUS.” They are based all over the world, with the headquarters in the US. Anyone who is working toward social change can attend a summit and become a member, and already thousands have done just this. They have summits in the US, Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe.

I originally heard of NEXUS five years ago from a colleague. Over the course of those five years, I heard from more and more people just how amazing it was. However, due to my busy work schedule, I wasn’t ever able to attend a conference or summit. I consistently stayed in touch with one of the founders to try to arrange it, but alas it never worked out.

One of the things I’d heard about NEXUS is the connections you make there. It is a no-pitch platform for people to meet other like-minded people, hear their stories, learn from their mistakes, and perhaps collaborate on future projects.

In my mind, the biggest flaw within the philanthropic community is the lack of exactly this. Everyone is working hard, trying to change the world, but they aren’t talking to each other or working together. You have thirty different organizations trying to do the same thing, making the same mistakes, learning the same lessons, but not sharing what they’ve learned. Imagine how much faster development and change could occur if we just broke down our walls, threw out the need to be the first, or the best, or the most innovative, and just started talking to each other.

Since working in economic development is my passion, I decided to devote as much of my time as possible to learning and working toward it. When I moved to Vietnam in January, I began to focus much more on my foundation work and much less on my teaching. Additionally, I was determined to finally make it to a NEXUS event. Here’s what happened…

I arrive in Fukushima, Japan in May. I’m sitting in the opening circle at their Asia Summit, holding hands with strangers and hearing about how NEXUS is a family and this family will be with me forever, and honestly I thought I’d been pranked. I thought it was some kind of cult! I wanted to slowly back away, pack my bags, and get on the plane back to Hanoi. But, obviously I didn’t, and I am so thankful.

Our lovely ski resort in the beautiful Fukushima, another photo courtesy of Yudai Ishibashi.

While that type of introduction might not be my thing, the overall impact of the summit was amazing. It was small, around eighty people, all together for three days in an empty ski resort, and everyone is talking about the incredible work they are doing and how they are making their community, their country, and our world a better, more nourished place. Not everyone was working for a nonprofit, but everyone was working toward sustainability, education, health, and development. People were talking and sharing, offering their services and their expertise. That, alone, was incredible.

Sometimes in this work, being on the funding side of philanthropy can make you feel disconnected from the work you are funding and the work that is actually being done. While I know the money our foundation gives is going to partners who are doing amazing things, we are very rarely on the ground meeting them or observing their work. Going to NEXUS, which really was no-pitch, I felt connected to the work that we are all trying to do, and I felt like I was able to have genuine conversations with leaders of amazing organizations.

During a NEXUS summit, the regional volunteer staff choose a theme and a lot of the plenaries and breakout sessions revolve around that theme. They’ve focused on impact, sustainability, gender equality, economic development, and much more. This summit was mostly focused on resilience and sustainability.

Two of our volunteer leaders for the summit, Mami Takenoshita and Hiroyoshi Koizumi. Photo courtesy of Itsuko Yamada.

Most of the topics centered on the environment and doing what we can to protect our planet and ourselves; most of the attendees were working in this capacity. There was a lovely woman who is bringing sustainable fishing to Indonesia, multiple Next-Genners using recycled materials to make various products, from beds out of recycled mattress materials to tables from old wooden chopsticks. There were several eco-farmers and mental-health warriors. Not only were these people learners, but they were our teachers–financial specialists, scientists, musicians. One of the things that makes NEXUS so successful is that they ask you to learn, but they also expect you to teach or share. It is very much give and take, not one or the other.

Some of the speakers at the plenary on the Future of Energy, photo courtesy of June Nagao.

Now, you might be thinking, okay you went to this conference, you met some cool people, and you think you made these connections, but those rarely pan out and they are always so superficial. This is exactly what I thought–I was convinced this would happen. But I talked to so many people who have started businesses with people they met at a NEXUS summit, who have collaborated or joined forces. I was shocked. And less than a month after the summit, I already have an investment guru helping me decipher jargon and look over some documents I created and I’ve been on a call with an impact assessment genius all FOR FREE–it’s really crazy, y’all. People who are working to make the world a better place really care about collaboration, and NEXUS is the platform to do it.

Many of the delegates before “Forest Bathing” session, photo courtesy of Yudai Ishibashi.

Although some aspects of the conference were a bit too cheesy for me to stomach without a smirk, the overall intention of this summit, and this group, is both impressive and actionable. I left feeling extremely grateful for the opportunity to meet these people in the most beautiful place. I also am so inspired by the work that is being done by some really incredible people. So to all the attendees, thank you so much for sharing your stories with me and making this such a memorable experience. To everyone else, come join our family, we’ll be with you now and forever.

LEARN more about NEXUS and their mission to foster collaboration here.

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