Meet the Speakers of The Class Conference 2020

November 9, 2020


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The year 2020 has changed everything, as today we are faced with a crisis in global health and student mobility. However, a crisis can be a powerful engine for transformation. We, therefore, believe this marks an era of paradigm shifts for the future of living, learning, and working, ahead of our Graduation Conference taking place on November 19th. We would like to take this opportunity to introduce the visionary leaders and experts who will discuss these shifts at the conference.

When you can be anywhere, why be somewhere?

Dror Poleg, Author & Co-Chair of ULI’s Tech & Innovation Council in New York

When students and young professionals can work and study anywhere, what are the reasons to choose a city, university, or residence for that matter? Rethinking Real Estate author, and conference keynote, Dror argues that technology now provides people with unprecedented choices. Buildings — and whole cities — need to focus on the needs of specific customer groups in order to remain viable and create value for investors. What does it mean in practice? The Class of 2020 identifies it as an opportunity for learning, living, and working players to swiftly graduate from current paradigms.

Graduation from education to learning without boundaries

The internationalization of higher education has been the driving force of growing student mobility and demand for student housing in the past decade. A new generation of global talent embraced the idea of education and life experiences in university cities far away from their family homes. However, this year’s global health and mobility crisis brought many back to their bedrooms. The crisis has highlighted looming questions over the sustainability of the higher education models. This talk show will bring together student, university, and technology leaders to share their predictions and ideas for the future of learning without boundaries.

David Gibson, Education Partner Strategy Leader, Microsoft

With a revenue of 143 billion USD, Microsoft is among one of the major companies that needs a large and diverse workforce to devise grand solutions. However, thousands of attractive Microsoft jobs sit unfilled because the global workforce doesn’t have the right skills and competencies. As with every industrial revolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is driving and demanding a massive educational shift. According to David, Education Partner Strategy Leader, technology both creates disruption and gives us the tools to manage it. Together with higher education partners, David examines how technology can transform education to meet the needs of society and the industry.

Martin Paul, President of Maastricht University & Chair of YUFE

Higher education institutions have been considered the epicenter of the brightest minds, armed with renowned scholars, experts, professionals and of course, students eager to learn and advance. But this crisis has called into question the purpose and viability of educational institutions and the campus experience. As traditional learning is disrupted, Martin believes it will still be important to physically visit universities. In this new era, there is still now if not more than ever a need to train European citizens. We have seen that traditional monofunctional spaces and propositions aren’t working for higher education and Martin will help us break down boundaries to rethink how living and learning environments can arm students with the soft skills needed for the future.

Gohar Hovhannisyan, President of the European Students’ Union

Gohar’s main focus is on the of quality of higher education, with an emphasis given to quality assurance, learning and teaching, digitalization, and meaningful student participation in governance. An advocate of the opportunities blended learning pathways can provide for increasing educational accessibility and convenience for students, Gohar also draws on ESU research to point out the social and wellbeing needs of students that must be embraced by living and learning environments for students to thrive in this era of paradigm shifts.

Graduation from spaces to solutions

The future of real estate will revolve around purpose, which provides great opportunities for student housing and co-living sectors. In the 21st century, our cities will be reshaped by blended experiences enabled by digital innovation and places that combine living, learning, and working. Well-being, connectivity, and community are now key concerns from designers to operators and investors. Together with Dror Poleg, this talk show will explore how purpose, well-being, sustainability, and technology will reframe the way we imagine and value real estate.

Esther Bahne, Co-CEO & CMO, Quarters

During Esther’s time at MINI (BMW Group), it became clear that owning a car is less relevant for young people, and that opportunity lay in the number one need for everyone: housing. Esther, therefore, shifted MINI’s brand from selling cars to associating itself with the urban lifestyles of the young and car-free. Essentially tailoring a company to what customers really want even if it’s outside of the core business. The pivot from cars to housing led Esther to Quarters. Quarters has always addressed an elusive group of digital nomads and brings increasing relevance now due to remote working. Figuring out how to build a home that meets these needs is fascinating. One of the ways she plans to do so is through building partnerships in the cities where Quarters has a foothold to create housing as a service.

Graduation from university cities to talent hubs

The past decade has brought explosive growth and change to university cities. Global talent mobility has accelerated vibrant city development and economic success. But the impact of growth and internationalization has taken its toll on infrastructure, housing markets, and community support. Some nations have responded by building walls while some capital cities are seeing the population decline for the first time. This talk show includes experts in the governance of cities and policies that enable talent and cities to thrive. They are creators of innovative ideas for improving the quality of life and opportunity for all. With recovery funds in the pipeline, we will ask them what they would do to build university cities into resilient talent hubs.

Tim Moonen, Co-Founder, The Business of Cities

Adviser to city and business leaders worldwide, Tim will share the findings of The Business of Cities hot-off-the-press report in collaboration with JLL Readiness, Resilience and Responsibility: City Governance and Real Estate in a Post-COVID World. Amidst a raging debate on the future of cities, Tim and his colleagues argue that some cities will be much more successful than others in responding to the COVID-19 crisis. Preparation for the looming climate emergency and the ability to capture the investment opportunities that emerge in cycles of recovery will be differentiators for cities. According to Tim, city governance – the way cities are run, managed, led, and orchestrated – will be increasingly fundamental to cities being future-fit for the coming ten years.

Carolien Gehrels, European Cities Director, Arcadis and former Vice-Mayor of Amsterdam

Drawing from her experiences as alderman of Amsterdam, Carolien will share her advice on overcoming two previous economic dips. During which she was responsible for restructuring the urban economy and created the conditions that made Amsterdam popular for tourists and invested in knowledge and innovation to drive its attractiveness as a university city. For the current economic dip, Carolien advocates creating the conditions for technology companies to thrive in the city.

Davide Dattoli, Co-Founder & CEO, Talent Garden SPA

Talent Garden’s network provides skills education, coworking spaces, and various innovation projects and activities in 23 campuses across 8 countries. Today Talent Garden counts 3,500 members, trains 3,000 professionals, helps 150 big corporations to innovate, and hosts over 40,000 attendees at events. Davide is listed on the Forbes 30 under 30 list and has been nominated as Wired’s Top 5 Innovators in Italy. During the conference, Davide will share his vision for how European and other public funds can invest in the physical and digital infrastructure to grow the European economy.

Fast-Forward the Agenda for Living, Learning, and Working

Since 2011 the Class Conference asked partners and experts to identify the challenge and opportunities our community needs to focus on and how we can work together. This year we bring long-term contributing and partners back on our digital stage to reflect on the insights and visions shared today. We will discuss with them and the participants the most urgent topics and trends that will shape the future of our community at large and explore a framework and agenda for The Class to work on with its partners for the next ten years.

Xavier Jongen, Managing Director of European Residential, Catella IM

Xavier was the first to introduce a pan-European residential fund in 2007.  Meanwhile, the portfolio grew to over 4,5 bn EUR in AuM, with assets in nice countries and nine sub-sectors. As The Class looks at the investment needed to provide opportunities for young talent who come to university-cities, Xavier will help translate the findings of the talk shows towards an agenda for addressing the continued housing crisis and creating sustainable and resilient talent hubs.

Steve Thompson, Senior Director, Learning and Talent, Greystar

As Greystar expanded within the living industry and around the world, Steve had to take fast action to ensure skills and values were embedded in their growing team and created an award-winning corporate learning programme. As The Class raises questions about the skills and competencies the maturing blended living industry will need to lead the paradigm shifts of the next ten years, Steve will help translate the findings of the talk shows towards an agenda for learning within our industry and community.

Marti Grimminck, Founder and CEO, International Connector

Marti designed the company’s signature product: a virtual, immersive, interactive think tank that has disrupted approaches to data by providing a direct line into a network of young innovators across 190 countries. Marti also leads three social impact programs: Innovative Resilience, The Future of Women in Tech, and Your Big Year. Marti attended the very first Class of 2020 conferences. As The Class shapes the optimal living and learning communities for young talent, Marti will help translate the talk show findings towards an agenda for supporting the needs, desires, and lifestyle of emerging generations.

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