the view from Schloss Leopoldskron

the view from Schloss Leopoldskron

It’s a funny paradox: the movie beloved by almost every tourist who sets foot Salzburg, Austria is relatively unknown to most of the locals. Sure, they know The Sound of Music movie exists, but few know what it is about and even fewer will admit to having actually watched it. What’s more, the gorgeous mansion and grounds used by Hollywood for some of the most memorable scenes of the movie remains under the radar for most Austrians, but is actually a site of global importance.

The palace, known locally as Schloss Leopoldskron, was built by the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg and owned by Max Reinhardt. He was the founder of the now renown (if you are into opera and classical music) Salzburg Music Festival. For the last 70 years, the palace has housed the Salzburg Global Seminar. Salzburg Global is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the world through bringing diverse, passionate, and intelligent world leaders of all ages and experiences together to discuss, plan, and collaborate. They offer seminars year-round in three strands (imagination, sustainability, and justice) that focus on specific topics and help imagine solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. In addition, they’ve hosted hundred of college students, many from historically under-privileged areas, for week-long academies on the themes of global citizenship, media, and law.

When you bring together intelligent, determined people in a place that looks like this, something is bound to happen. Whether it is new policies, new collaborations, or new personal directions, Salzburg Global has a rich history of really great stories. You can check out a few of them here, but one of my favorites is that of Ayman Sabae:

In Ayman’s story, you see the power of an institution like Salzburg Global: a young man comes to a seminar and is inspired. Over the course of the next decades, he returns to Salzburg and builds stronger connections: connections that help him bring real improvements in health care to his country.

When I sat in on a Salzburg Global session last spring called “Mind the Gap: Innovation and Regional Cohesion for Smart Growth,” I got to witness first hand the power of the model. Salzburg Global had gathered leaders and experts from across Europe and the globe to discuss how the European Union’s Regional Cohesion policy can help level the playing field for communities and regions across Europe. Among the participants were top-level advisors to the European Union and governments, as well as independent consultants from Bulgaria and Poland.

On the last day, Clare Shine, Salzburg Global’s chief program officer, told us a story about how the session came to be. For me, it was another great story that exemplified how an organization’s vision and mission can have impact on both the personal and organizational levels. I later interviewed Shine to get the full story:

Gifts sometimes show up at unexpected times. When Clare Shine answered the phone in December of 2012, just a few short days before Christmas, she had little sense that the phone call would lead to one of Salzburg Global’s most intriguing partnerships.

The phone caller introduced herself as the new director of communications for the Directorate-General for Regional and Urban Policy. She had been in her job for less than a week, and she needed an event. Her office wanted a forum where members of the EU community could learn about and discuss the reformed EU Cohesion Policy 2014-2020. She knew that the success of what she wanted to do depended on both having the right setting and skillful facilitation. Luckily, she knew just the place.

She had attended a Salzburg Global Seminar at the start of her career twenty years before and believed Salzburg Global was the best place to discuss how the €350 billion available through the Cohesion Policy could best deliver EU’s Europe 2020 goals: creating growth and jobs, tackling climate change and energy dependence, and reducing poverty and social exclusion.

By the time Clare and the new director hung up the phone, plans had been made — plans that included high-level meetings in Brussels, significant preparation in Salzburg, and partnering with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The resulting seminar, “Session 534: Mind the Gap! Innovating for Regional Cohesion and Inclusive Growth,” brought together experts from four continents of the world around the shared challenges of delivering smart, sustainable, and inclusive growth.

Do you know a story about groups of smart people working together?

Next Up: Real Students Doing Real Work: Project Based Learning and BIE