The Power of Personal Encounters: Reflections on the Ottawa Hub Retreat

By  Ayah Nayfeh, Global Shaper

I had no preconceived expectations the Saturday morning when I cozied up, with twenty six others, in a cabin near Lanark, Ontario. As a new recruit to the Ottawa Hub, what I did know was that our retreat would be a gathering of energetic peers committed to improving the state of the world. The ambition and warmth of the group was immediately palpable as we converged around the spacious living room.

Our opening session was kicked off with a few short videos and awe-inspiring stories illustrating the vast number of network hubs worldwide. I discovered, for instance, that a Global Shaper from Amman, Jordan travelling to South Africa can be immediately connected to local Shapers with a click of a button. Better yet, although facing very different challenges, stories from these videos and discussions with other Shapers taught me that young people from all over the world — more than ever — are so much alike in when empowered and determined to forge their communities into a better place.

A statement from one of the videos made an indelible impression. A gift of youth is innocence toward what is possible; it makes us act with the boundless belief that we can achieve far-reaching goals. What better way to start planning for the vision and mission of SHAPE North America 2017, a summit to be co-hosted by the Ottawa and Toronto Hubs looking to anticipate solutions for the challenges now and yet to come.

I joined the Global Shapers Community because I wanted to expand my network of individuals from other disciplines to strengthen my work in international health development. It was immediately evident to me in planning for SHAPE NA 2017 that although we were coming from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, our overarching goal was the same. In fact, ‘pluralism’ and ‘convergence’ came up so many times over the weekend, we eventually could only all but show our appreciation through snaps — spoken-word style — of affirmation. Personally, I felt the impact of these important ideas reverberate through our small group over a span of just two days.

Of all the team-building activities over the weekend, my absolute favourite was the one to wrap up our last day. I strongly recommend that you try this activity with your colleagues, family, or friends. Our Ottawa Hub curator, Adam Moscoe, had us sit in a circle facing outwards and with our eyes closed. Quietly he would tap three to four people to quietly come to the centre. They would then be asked to tap those in the group who fit certain characteristics, e.g., those who motivate you; someone you trust; someone you look up to as a leader, among many others. We all have our own reflections of who we are and our potential, but to receive these deeply-felt affirmations garnered over a brief time together truly made me realize the power of personal encounters.

Young people recognize the need to break down walls and to stop acting behind invisible borders. As one of the Shapers, David, reminded us, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In celebration of Canada’s 150th anniversary, I am most excited for Canadian Hubs to demonstrate, affirm and renew our strength in pluralism, and to share this with the larger global community.