WOBI annually invite business leaders to join their World Business Forum in major cities around the world, where a careful selection of important speakers give their insights on a chosen yearly theme. As a participant on the International Flex EMBA course, which is delivered in partnership with WOBI, I was invited to join in and after some quick research, I decided on going to the Madrid event on 3-4 October. When I realized that the multifaceted Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group, was invited to speak in Madrid, it was a very easy decision.

First, I need to clarify that as part of the i-Flex experience we have access to a large selection of video recordings of talks from former World Business Forums, so I already had a good idea of the level of quality to expect, although I did wonder whether there might be some repetition of content. I need not have worried, as it was all exceptional and after two days of networking, listening, interacting, being inspired and a fair few amazing moments, I can tell you that I felt quite elated. It is impossible not to get inspired by this format.

This year, the theme of the forum was humanification and all the speakers touched upon the impact of human understanding and interaction on all kinds of businesses. I already knew that different generations viewed the World through “different glasses”, but the speakers made me realize how important marketing will be to HR, not only to attract, but also to maintain and understand the needs of the employees they have already recruited. As an entrepreneur, Richard Branson made it clear that he did not get involved in any business that did not have a bigger social purpose and many speakers talked about how modern workers expect more of their organizations than ever before when it comes to values and purpose.

I had one of my most powerful“wow-experiences” when Tamara Ericson spoke about the need to change our view on “older” citizens, as most of us are going to live long, active and engaged lives. She stated that most of us in the audience will experience our 100th birthday and continued to explain that “older” generations are going to be greater in number than younger ones in most modern capitalist societies. To me, this turned the world a bit upside down as businesses today seem very eager to recruit younger replacements for older employees, while their biggest potential customers may in fact be these “older” clientele. Hopefully some organizations will wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late.

The conversations during the breaks were interesting as well. In Madrid, many spent their time in a small pop-up bookshop, where the speakers signed their latest books and continued discussions with participants after their time on stage. I especially recall the lively discussions after Rachel Botsman’s talk about what trust is and who we grant the right to define it. The topic is extremely relevant in our algorithm-governed times and the examples she used to explain how we increasingly blindly authorize online services to manage our trust were quite scary. I am certain that many of the discussions between participants will lead to new innovations to improve the way we use technology, surely by extending humanification.

Some final thoughts about the World Business Forum as a phenomenon. As Executive MBA students on a WOBI program we already had a headstart, but being in the middle of it all really dispeled any doubts I might have had. The World Business Forum is a feast of creativity, research, passion, networking and inspiration delivered in a concentrated package and even though I had to rest for a couple of days afterwards, the new ideas and the contacts I established will stay with me. WOBI – I am a believer and I will most certainly be back for more.