Connecting Global to Local

Matthew Lace

Matthew Lace

Alumnus (Class of 2021)

This article is part of Das Tor’s collaboration with Phoenix Global Shapers. The Global Shapers Community is a World Economic Forum initiative that encourages global-minded individuals to make a positive impact in their local communities. Over the next weeks, Das Tor will be featuring T-birds making a difference in Global Shapers. Thunderbird students are highly encouraged to apply for membership at the Phoenix hub here. 

My background is in development economics and program management. Prior to Thunderbird, I spent a couple years working with two United Nations organizations in Ecuador, then helped launch a nonprofit and technology SME accelerator in Australia and Papua New Guinea. With those experiences in mind, I decided to base my next career step in the intersection of technology and social impact. The motivation for that change was to build a skillset that enabled me to create durable solutions that address the root causes of many of the issues we see today. I liked to build things, so I decided I wanted to jump on board the opportunities on the technology side. In order to make that jump, I joined the MGM program at Thunderbird in the fall of 2019. 

As a student, I was deeply involved in student groups and worked as a Graduate Teaching Assistant for marketing and entrepreneurship courses. Following the early (and chaotic) days of the pandemic, I took advantage of the increasingly remote workplace and worked as a graduate student consultant for the Swedish telecommunications company, Ericsson, which was rolling out 5G infrastructure around the world. While there, I got to support their initiatives to provide high speed internet access to schools that were struggling to connect with their remote learners. The solution not only provided access but created online courses and content to build technology skills. Upon graduation from Thunderbird in May 2021, I made the career switch into product management to deepen my technical skills and continue building things. My goals as an Associate Product Manager at American Express are to foster financial inclusion by removing barriers and creating a user experience that enables informed decision making. 

I first heard about Global Shapers through the Thunderbird network back in 2020. Being relatively new to Phoenix, I was excited to work with local leaders and continue building my network of like-minded professionals in the area. Two years on, being a Shaper has enriched my experience in Phoenix and helped me stay connected to broader topics. 

Each year, there is a conference where Shapers from around the world convene. It is free and open to anyone from the global hubs, paving the way for a dynamic and engaging few days. During the last Shapers Virtual Summit, I already had other plans and was traveling, but I still carved out time to tune in from hotel lobbies and coffee shops. With over 10,000 Shapers spread across 147 countries, I knew this was going to be a great event and not something to miss. 

The summit’s driving purpose is to mobilize action toward our social impact goals. My main takeaways from the summit can be broken down into the following three themes: vision, connection, and action. 

Vision

Hearing world leaders discuss the impact hubs were making through Global Shapers was inspiring. It’s important to be able to flip back and forth between the big picture and the realities we see on the ground. I’m a big fan of that from the year I spent with the UN Refugee Agency field office in Quito, Ecuador. We spent every day focused on our area and the needs present there – from refugee home visits to submitting funding proposals. Each day revolved around the region we were in and the unique situations within it. However, by being connected to a larger international organization, we constantly checked for alignment with the organization’s goals and used them to fuel our work. The same holds true for an organization like Global Shapers, where we are laser-focused on working toward the goals we set for each city but benefit from the broader network of Shapers around the world. Only by working together and leveraging our collective learning are we able to make long-lasting change. 

Connection

Connection to that network played a major role in my participation in the summit. Being able to interact with like-minded individuals from around the world was truly inspiring. The format of the sessions was chosen to boost engagement. During a session on measuring impact, for example, we split into groups and talked through our thoughts with Shapers tuning in from around the world. Those interactions led to others, a sort of snowball effect. I was able to build connections with individuals in places ranging from Germany to Guatemala. 

Action

The momentum built by an event like this would be wasted if there wasn’t a common goal we were running after. By having a clear call to action informed by the Sustainable Development Goals, the learning obtained from the summit had an immediate application. I am a firm believer in making change at the local level. While it is immensely important to be informed of the broader context, there is power in being able to break issues down into actionable steps that are tailored to local realities. 

When thinking about the importance of organizations like Global Shapers, I keep coming back to the last lecture of my undergraduate studies. One of my professors stressed the importance of focusing on the issues right in front of us. This professor had articles published in prestigious journals, consulted regularly for United Nations organizations, etc. But in this lecture, they stressed that their most important work came from their involvement on their local Park and Recreation Board. By influencing how the city’s green spaces were managed, they were able to directly impact the wellbeing of the millions of people that lived around them. Through Global Shapers, I strive to emulate that commitment to localized, measurable change. 

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