Ian Mason of Virgin StartUp explains how he came to represent the UK at last year’s Y20 Summit in Istanbul, and why it was the most exhausting thing he’s ever done…
Everyone has heard of the G20 Summit, but the Y20? Not so many. In fact, this annual, week-long international summit debates the challenges faced by the next generation. It still involves the G20 member nations but, unlike the main summit, the nations are not represented by today’s political leaders.
Oh no… they’re represented by future leaders who are, in fact, real people like us. And last year, Virgin StartUp’s very own Ian Mason was the UK’s lead delegate.
As Head of Development, Ian’s not afraid of hard work, but even he found the selection process rigorous! “It was a very competitive process so to win the role was a real privilege,” he says. “I might consider a career in politics in the future so an experience like the Y20 is very good preparation.”
Ian agrees that his day job at Virgin definitely helped. “I have lots of exposure to entrepreneurship and I work with hundreds of businesses every month – in fact, we’ve funded more than 750 businesses in 18 months. So I really leaned on that experience when I applied for the Y20 role,” he explains. “Many people criticise today’s politicians for talking about things that are not necessarily ground in their own experience so, for me, it was very important to bring real knowledge to the table.”
What Ian couldn’t have predicted was how busy the run-up to the summit in Istanbul would be – two hectic months of preparation and pre-discussion via social media – and what the negotiation process itself would actually involve.
“The Y20 is quite a frantic affair!” he laughs. “You have to make your point in a limited amount of time and, although the language of negotiation is English, there’s always the language barrier – you can’t use colloquialism, or puns, or cultural references that are country-specific. You can only be effective if everyone fully understands you.
“I really enjoyed it but it was probably the most exhausting thing I’ve ever done – we worked 20 hour days and took part in really long negotiations. When you’re in the room you have to think about what is being debated now, consider where the discussion may go, and predict what’s likely to come next! It was all-consuming and, at the same time, strangely relaxing because it’s not often that you’re given the opportunity to simply focus on one thing.”
So, does Ian feel that his first international summit was a success? “It was very gratifying to see the UK’s ideas talked about across all 20 countries and they also featured on the final communique,” he says. “On a personal level, it felt amazing to be able to influence people from so many different nations because that’s quite a tough thing to do. Cross-cultural communication can also make you generally think more clearly about what you’re saying and how you say it, which is a very good habit to have. That will be invaluable in my future work with Virgin StartUp.
“Looking back now, it was an amazing one-off opportunity and, professionally, I reckon it was the best thing I have ever done.”