Social Capital

Global Leaders Kick Off the 2019 Resnick Aspen Action Forum with an Exploration of the Borders in Their Lives

July 27, 2019  • Aspen Global Leadership Network

Borders are a part of life –– whether internal, invisible, geo-political or otherwise. Borders can help and they can harm. Borders are powerful and they can also be a form of power. Understanding the borders that are around and within us can lead to greater self-awareness and open the path for making great change in the world. With inspiration from the poem “The Borders are Fluid Within Us”  by Dan Vera, this year’s Resnick Aspen Action Forum  explores what potential might lie beyond the borders and limits we have constructed for ourselves and others.

Aspen Institute President and CEO Dan Porterfield set the tone for the convening of global entrepreneurs by referencing a historic, border-crossing action pledge made by President John F. Kennedy to boldly go where no human had gone before –– the moon. “[President John F. Kennedy] knew that every great breakthrough begins at the borderlands between the imagined and the achieved, between sadness and a solution, between the realism of the old and the relentlessness of the young,” said Porterfield with a timely reference to the recent 50th anniversary of Apollo 11. Porterfield went on to describe that in a time when borders can seem like impenetrable walls, the borderlands can also be places of possibility.

Recently announced  Vice President of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, John Simpkins, took the stage to reinforce Porterfield’s message and draw the connection that identifying boundaries can be a step toward making meaningful and lasting impact. Simpkins compared the power of community to an impressionist painting. “A picture of significant sustained action emerging from a constellation of small steps by a group of committed individuals speaking the same language, holding each other accountable to shared, individual, and collective expectations,” he said.

Following the remarks, President Dan Porterfield moderated a panel of Fellows from the Aspen Global Leadership Network discussing borders and how to either break through or better define them. “My whole story is around borders,” said panelist Shamina Singh, President of Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and a Henry Crown Fellow. She continued by sharing a story from her childhood about a time when someone yelled “go back to where you came from” to her and her family while walking through a shopping mall. She noted that her father and grandfather, who are Sikh, were wearing turbans at the time.

Owner of Irrifrance China and Middle East Leadership Initiative Fellow Karim Alwadi, who is working to prevent China-phobia, described the borders he encounters on a daily basis. “I have a lot of borders in my life… I’m half Syrian, half Russian,” he said pointing out that he currently lives in China and refers to it as home. “I grew through Islamophobia…I’m really cautious and afraid that we are going toward a China-phobia.”

“We have to also acknowledge that some of the borders in our lives aren’t just uncomfortable or difficult, they are unjust,”
— moderator and President Dan Porterfield

A common thread throughout the discussion was the importance of community, trust, and love. When asked if breaking borders is part of a personal calling, Youth Action Forum participant Jane Nduati responded, “Not me alone. I am a mere mortal. I can’t do it by myself. It takes a group of people who believe in the vison.” Shamina Singh added that there are a few subversive ways to think about borders referencing her marriage to her wife, Ashley, as breaking a border. “Information crosses borders, and people recognize decency and love. Love can be very subversive.”