2022 Young Leaders Program in Austin, TX
Austin, Texas - Invite Only
Debrief of the 2022 Young Leaders Program in Austin, Texas
On Wednesday, October 26, 2022, the French-American Foundation kicked off the 41st edition of our flagship Young Leaders program. It marked the first time the seminar had met in the U.S. since 2019, and the Foundation’s very first program in Austin, Texas. We were thrilled to be back together in-person for an intensive week of dialogue, learning, and relationship-building.
Every year since 1981, the Foundation has welcomed a new class of Young Leaders who have demonstrated exceptional professional achievements and the proclivity to work towards positive global impact. The Young Leaders program is grounded in the belief that informed dialogue across cultures will lead to progress in solving the world’s most difficult problems. During this year’s seminar, nearly fifty French and American Young Leaders heard from experts in their fields on an array of topics, including entrepreneurship and drivers behind economic growth, the war in Ukraine, and climate change and regenerative agriculture. Participants toured historic sites and explored Austin’s most vibrant neighborhoods. They listened, debated, reflected, and challenged each other – and themselves.
This year’s seminar theme was Entrepreneurship and the Innovation Economy, and kicked off with in-depth conversations with entrepreneurs, funders, and mentors at the iconic Capitol Factory. The Capital Factory has nurtured hundreds of successful start-ups across the state of Texas and is currently one of the most active early-stage investors in the state. Following meet-and-greet activities for Young Leaders, our group was led on a guided toured of the coworking space and had the opportunity to learn from founders of two outstanding Capital Factory startups, one innovating in organic farming and the other in women’s healthcare affordability and access.
Later in the morning, a panel on “The Austin Boom” was presented by Mitch Jacobson, head of the Austin Technology Incubator and Liz Wiley, Honorary Consul of France for Austin. They shared insights on the origins and development of Austin as a tech hub and the policies that underlie successful growth and support communities facing rapid change. Young Leaders Emmanuеl Straschnοv (’22) and Raphaelle d’Ornano (’22) moderated a discussion on “Funders, Founders, and Entrepreneurship”, which featured panelists Olivia Dell, Chelsea Toler, and Joseph Kopser. Young Leaders learned about the challenging but rewarding journey of starting a business, best practices to advocate for minority talents, and the importance of equal opportunity in start-up ecosystems.
Young Leaders even had the opportunity to brainstorm building their own startups. Erika Haskins of 3 Day Startup led an engaging workshop in which the group was urged to pitch new business models with a focus on social entrepreneurship and the circular economy. The activity showcased the diverse experiences and creativity of this year’s Young Leader cohort!
To close the afternoon, we welcomed quizmasters from Get it Gals Trivia, who led a lively and convivial game of trivia. Young Leaders bonded by working in teams to answer questions and learned a few fun facts about Austin in the process! For dinner, Austin Eats Food Tours led the group out into East Austin for a unique culinary experience. Young Leaders were treated to a taste of the diverse and ever-expanding food scene that Austin has to offer.
On Thursday, October 27, Young Leaders gathered in the Texas Hill Country, where farmers are combining traditional regenerative agriculture techniques with modern technology to restore the land’s health. Our group were welcomed by TerraPurezza Farm, founded in 2015 by Tina and Orion Weldon, and situated on Willie Nelson’s 500-acre Luck Ranch. The Weldons shared their entrepreneurial journey and how the extraordinary TerraPurezza came to life—through years of hard work and support from the local community. The group learned about environmental restoration and conservation practices, scattered native seed to rehabilitate overgrazed pastures, and saw some well-fed pigs along the way!
After a few hours at the farm, the group headed to Pizzeria Sorellina, a partner restaurant of TerraPurezza, serving what some say is the best pizza in Central Texas. The day closed on an enchanting note with a visit to the Field of Light exhibition at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Illuminating 16 acres, the Field of Light is a stunning display of 28,000 vibrant solar-powered, fiber-optic light pods that showcase the intersection of art, technology, and nature.
Friday, October 28 focused on all things policy, generating important conversations and making space for different perspectives to be shared among the group. Young Leaders gathered at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin to tune into a panel on the war in Ukraine, led by experts Will Inboden, Alexandra Sukalo, Emily Holland, and moderator Adam Klein YL ’22. Speakers reflected on the implications for U.S. and EU strategy, foreign policy and defense, the internal dynamics within Russia and Ukraine, and strategic and economic implications of the war’s shocks to energy supplies and markets.
The French-American Foundation welcomed Texas Politics Project Research Director Joshua Blank and Travis County Judge Andy Brown for a conversation on the state of contemporary Texas politics. From voting and women’s reproductive rights to gun control and immigration, the discussion served not only to familiarize participants on important issues facing Texas, but also to foster dialogue among rising leaders about the importance of being thoughtful, productive, and engaged citizens at home and abroad.
Young Leaders toured the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, home to 45 million pages of historical documents from President Johnson’s political career, as well as the Texas State Capitol building, where our group was given a peek at the House of Representatives and Senate voting chambers. Young Leaders spent their free time on Friday night enjoying all that Austin has to offer—from cowboy boot shopping, to BBQ, and learning how to dance the Texas two-step!
The program concluded on Saturday, October 29 with a final group discussion led by Sewell Chan, Editor in Chief of The Texas Tribune and Young Leader alum (’09), The group learned about Sewell’s journey to becoming a leader in reporting and news, the vital work he oversees at the Texas Tribune, and ways to stay optimistic when the daily news starts to feel overwhelming. The conversation, moderated by Brian Ferguson (US YL ‘20) and Flora Thiébaut (FR YL ‘21), drew broader questions and commentary from Young Leaders themselves on the art and impact of good leadership and the importance of building bridges between different people and cultures.
Our very last stop in Austin was to the French Legation Museum and Historic Site, one of the oldest houses in Austin, built in 1841 as a home and diplomatic outpost for the French chargé d’affaires Alphonse Dubois. The group gathered for a festive cocktail ceremony to celebrate a magnificent 2022 program and raise a glass to the French-American friendship.
The French-American Foundation extends its sincerest gratitude to all who provided guidance and support throughout the planning of this year’s program, including our Board of Directors, Young Leader alumni, friends in Austin, and sister foundation the French-American Foundation–France. And, of course, we are immensely grateful to our Young Leaders, who made our program in Austin unforgettable. It is always humbling to be surrounded by people who exhibit passion for their work and believe deeply in the possibility of change. Without exception, each Young Leader has worked to serve the broader community, tackle tough assignments, and make a difference in the lives of those around them. With these reflections in mind, our group left Austin feeling hopeful and confident that the compassion, humility, and leadership of our Young Leaders will inspire positive impact in the world around us, making it a brighter and more inclusive place.
Fortunately, it won’t be too long until we’re reunited again in France for the 2023 Young Leaders Program. Until then, un grand merci, et à bientôt!
About the Young Leaders Program
Now in its 41st year, the Young Leaders program is a joint effort with our sister organization, the French-American Foundation–France. The Young Leaders program convenes a vibrant and highly selective group of French and American professionals who are between 30 to 40 years old and hail from a wide array of sectors, whose common link is their demonstrated leadership and their passion for forging bonds in a globalized world. Young Leaders discuss issues of common concern, reflect on questions of leadership, and get to know one another, all in the name of fostering global understanding.
Participants attend two 5-day meetings over the course of two years, one year in France and one year in the United States. Each year, a group of 40 to 45 Young Leaders, evenly divided between French and American participants, convenes to engage with experts and share ideas that affect leaders in all sectors – whether in the private sector, politics, or arts and culture – and develop mutual understanding between the two countries. After two years as Young Leaders, participants join an active community of alumni who attend and organize events, use the network to develop professionally, and maintain ties across the Atlantic. In other words, we develop a corps of citizen diplomats who cut through official channels to exchange ideas and create lasting, global ties.