The Global Affairs Review welcomes Professor Christian Busch to NYU

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The Global Affairs Review (GAR) welcomes Professor Christian Busch to NYU’s Center for Global Affairs (CGA) community. To mark this occasion, GAR sat down with Professor Busch to discuss his new role at the CGA. He joins the CGA community as a Clinical Assistant Professor and Director of the Global Economy concentration. Professor Busch is a Visiting Fellow at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a co-founder of Leaders on Purpose, an organization convening high-impact leaders, as well as the Sandbox Network, a global community of young innovators active in over 20 countries. His upcoming book, “The Serendipity Mindset” (Penguin Random House, 2020), focuses on how we can turn uncertainty into opportunity.

Global Affairs Review: What compelled you to join the CGA community and what have been your first impressions of the Center?

Professor Busch: I think it comes out of a very personal motivation. Every couple of years, I am questioning what platform will help me do what I enjoy the most: connecting the dots, people, ideas and having some kind of meaningful impact. I started as an entrepreneur, then I became a community builder and at some point, I was very attracted to academia. It provides a platform to make sense out of things, to take time to reflect on what ‘social impact’ really means and how to effectively achieve it.

So far, I have always kept my entrepreneurial and academic sides partly separate at the institutions where I have been. I think the amazing thing about CGA is that it promotes doing all the things you are really passionate about within this ‘CGA framework’, focused on thinking about a fast changing world and enabling students and the people we work with to connect the dots all the time, and be ready for an uncertain world. This is exactly what I am most passionate about.

CGA asks how we can tackle the world’s biggest global challenges in responsible and sustainable ways. At the same time, it is an entrepreneurial environment that allows one to question assumptions and make things happen in ways that other institutions might be hesitant about. That entrepreneurial dynamism is one of the key reasons I came here.

My first impression is that CGA has been an incredibly kind and supportive environment. All of my colleagues are in very different fields but they all have this core motivation of facilitating a platform for people to be part of solving big problems. You can create things here and this community will support you.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role at the CGA?

I have had a lot of conversations with students, industry and policy professionals to understand what areas are most relevant to them. One in particular is employability and focusing on teaching courses that are relevant to where the world is going. This includes courses on impact investing, inclusive growth, and rethinking the role of business in society. I am excited about this because we can be creative to ensure that courses over the next few years are designed to have inspiring content, as well as direct connections to industry and policy where students can develop hard and soft skills. We are already co-hosting events on issues such as financial modeling, focused on hard skills that can help students with their employability.

Additionally, I am a big fan of inviting professionals for a quick coffee and pulling students in to have conversations with them. I am very focused on the idea of connecting people from industry and policy in ways that are informal and organic, to allow serendipity to happen. This can allow us to facilitate a broader ecosystem of opportunities for students.

We have so many levers we can pull to facilitate a journey for students to develop resilience and opportunities to be successful in an uncertain world. I look forward to creating content that helps students rethink their assumptions and go into the world feeling well-prepared.

Can you tell us more about your professional and academic focus, and how you will encourage students to apply what they learn in the classroom to the professional world?

One broad theme I am excited about is integrating profit and purpose. For example, thinking about developing sustainability or social impact practices within large, for-profit organizations such as Mastercard to allow for large-scale impact. This requires studying what mechanisms seem to work, what type of leadership and networks are required and how all of these elements unfold over time. Similarly, exploring these elements for smaller enterprises and investigating what kinds of designs are needed to achieve this for start-ups. From the perspective of policy-making, I focus on how policies can allow flourishing businesses to simultaneously have social and financial impact.

The other theme that I am fascinated by at the moment is cultivating serendipity. This involves questioning how companies and individuals in a fast-changing world can prepare for the unexpected and the things they cannot plan out. I am focused on how we can develop the capacity to turn the unexpected into opportunity. Many positive outcomes, such as innovation, happen unexpectedly. For students, I am trying to incentivize an understanding that we do not have to map it all out but that we primarily have to put ourselves into the right environments, connect with the right people, and create our own luck in the process. There will always be constraints and for some there are more than for others, but developing a serendipity mindset can help in almost any situation.

What do you think is distinctive about the CGA community?

CGA is transdisciplinary. People are able to cross the boundaries and look at issues from very different perspectives, while also connecting the dots and understanding the whole. We have amazing people from different disciplines and are uniquely positioned in the world to look at global challenges from the perspectives of human rights, gender, security, politics, business and so on. The common denominator that unifies us is that we are all passionate to understand and tackle big global challenges.

Many academic institutions are unprepared for the future and are slow to change. CGA stands on the shoulders of a giant, that is NYU, while being able to adapt to what is required in the world. I gravitate towards this type of entrepreneurial setting because that is where interesting ideas can emerge, and where students can hopefully get involved as much as they want.

What three words would you use to describe the CGA? 

Kind, transdisciplinary and entrepreneurial.

I have also experienced it as an incredibly supportive and close-knit environment, where you do not have to self-censor your ideas. Ideas can grow here, which is a great thing because people come alive when they are able to work on issues in ways they are most excited about.

What is your favorite place in New York City?

I enjoy the West Village for its easygoingness. I also like to explore new places and work from different places such as coffee shops. The more involved I am in interesting and exciting opportunities, the more I value quieter spaces where you can hide away with a good book. So, I am a big fan of the river and parks where my inner introvert can come out, giving me the energy for the spikes of extroversion that my work requires.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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