A multicultural view on the smart city

What is the learning outcome when millennials from different countries and cultural backgrounds discuss how to develop new technology for a better tomorrow?

By Karianne Hartviksen

This August I was lucky to be accepted as one of 40 international, ambitious students to join the STeLA International Leadership Forum in Tokyo, Japan. Internet of things and smart cities was the theme of the forum, which got thoroughly discussed through different cultural glasses.

When Tokyo will welcome the world to the 2020 Olympics, a lot of actions will have been put into place to make the city smarter. Some planned examples are autonomous transportation, solar roads for extended use of renewable energy and robots used for language translation.

STeLA is short for Science and Technology Leadership Association, an international networking organization aimed at developing outstanding students’ leadership skills by organizing a demanding annual forum. STeLA wants to empower the future of science, technology and society through their activities and network.

Digital connection

IOT, or Internet of things, is simply explained as things connected to the Internet through sensors, which collect data that can be used for some purpose, which further is possible to reprogram and is self configuring. IOT enables the possibility of smart cities, which can be defined as a process rather than a static outcome.

Personally, I like this definition of smart city as a term by The British Standards Institutethe effective integration of physical, digital and human systems in the built environment to deliver sustainable, prosperous and inclusive future for its citizens.  

International perspective on leadership

This year´s STeLA forum invited participants from their branches in Europe, The Middle-East, Japan and China to the tech-capital of Tokyo. I was excited to see how my view of leadership, strongly affected of the Norwegian Model and the welfare system, would meet the other views at the forum. To learn about international cooperation and cultural differences is one thing, but learning by doing is a (wonderful and) completely different thing.

At several times during our sessions and group project, great discussions and conversations occurred. Just imagine how differently someone from Europe view the challenges related to personal data within IOT, compared to someone from China who have never heard about anything such as GDPR (the General Data Protection Regulation).

And the other way around; how someone from Europe might not understand all the technology that is reckoned as standard in countries like Japan. I mean, have you ever visited a Japanese bathroom? It is completely normal that the toilet will speak to you, open, close and clean itself.

Leadership skills: The forum aims at developing the participants´ leadership skills through lectures, group work, and customized case games.
Leadership skills: The forum aims at developing the participants´ leadership skills through lectures, group work, and customized case games.

Challenge your assumptions

During the forum, we worked with the Iceberg model, challenging us to look further than our initial assumptions of other people. This systematic way of thinking helps us discover the patterns, underlying structures and mental models of the ones around us. When disagreeing completely in a discussion, it was very helpful to dig deeper into why our views differed that much. We might not always reach an agreement, but we could agree to disagree with understanding and respect for each others opinions.

Being a part of STeLA has strengthen my abilities to be an understanding and reflected leader. With a rapidly globalized world that will experience new technology we can’t even imagine today. I will most certainly take advantage of a greater understanding of other cultures, as well as new friends and connections all across the globe.