A conversation with Exchange Director Chester Cunningham
Each year, the Xynteo Exchange connects a cross-sector cohort of visionary leaders and practitioners, in both India and the Nordics, to help drive action on urgent global problems.
We caught up with Exchange Director Chester Cunningham, to get an insight into this business-led, open innovation platform, and talk about what is in store for Xynteo Exchange 2020.
An obvious but important question first - what’s different about the Xynteo Exchange?
There’s a lot of great activity already out there, all trying to improve the state of the world. And rightly so – this is the decade of action. What we do now, will affect our planet and society for centuries.
So, we don’t seek to duplicate what’s already being done. At the Exchange, we’re instead looking to complement those efforts, with business in the driver’s seat, creating and accelerating a new generation of solutions that sit at the intersection of societal need and commercial interest.
At the heart of the Exchange concept, both in India and the Nordics, is its open innovation platform. We work on challenges, across industries and sectors, throughout the year, coming together annually face-to-face to propel efforts forward.
How has the Xynteo Exchange evolved over the years?
We have focused on identifying and inviting ever more relevant actors that would not otherwise meet in any other setting. Not just from those who are immediately impacted by the systemic challenges we work to address, but also others in adjacent industries and disciplines that can share their insights. Who would have thought the arts and culture, for example, can bring so much to the world of innovation!
And with participants intensely passionate about the themes we work on, we can become even more focused on accelerating collaborative action to tackle the challenges throughout the year.
I’m immensely excited about the solutions that come out of the Exchange. They are ever more pertinent – not only to solving the societal and environmental challenges at hand, but also to the businesses that will deliver them.
Can you touch upon a few outcomes from Xynteo Exchange?
I’m really excited about the collaboration that has been built with each of our Exchange partners. They’ve really committed to the cross-industry approach that our open innovation platform at the Exchange provides, and they are putting a lot of effort into this. We’re much stronger together.
To that end I’m looking forward to seeing some of 300 concepts generated since the Exchange launched in 2017 develop and, the best of them, getting piloted.
While these can take years to evolve, there are a few early-stage proof points emerging. For example, the Exchange enabled Yara to collect fresh insights into three key initiatives on empowerment across Africa and South America. Another example is that one of our partners has started looking into how they can incorporate carbon capture in their decarbonisation strategy as a result of conversations that took place at the Exchange. Moreover, the ongoing Scania project to unleash the potential of Europe’s bioeconomy was ideated at the Exchange. These are outcomes we are incredibly proud of, and excited to see evolve.
The Exchange has welcomed many inspirational and thought-provoking speakers to speak at its annual gathering over the years. So - what type of inspirational or leader is next on your list? Who would you most want to welcome to the Exchange as a speaker in future?
It’s a good question. While open innovation is at the heart of the Exchange, we can’t achieve the solutions we need by approaching them with the same mindset.
That’s why we bring in leaders who can challenge assumptions and inspire action.
And not just the usual “leaders” from business, government or civil society. We also invite leaders from other disciplines you wouldn’t think would connect with our work. For example, I’d actually love to bring in a voice from the world of cuisine (chefs are, by the nature of their craft, innovative, creative, yet pragmatic) and also from biological science (we have so much to learn from the 3.4 billion year research and development programme that nature has gifted us).
Also, I want to keep building on our collaboration with the arts and culture. You see, throughout history, artists have often been on the frontline of driving awareness and inspiring action. We really have much to learn from each other.
On the subject of the arts, one of the most exciting announcements of 2019 was a new venue – the new Munch Museum - for this year’s Exchange in Oslo. What can people expect?
We have had a fruitful partnership with the Munch Museum for some time now, but this new chapter in our relationship is really very exciting. The new Munch Museum is already an iconic space, so closely connected culturally to the city and the region. Being there with the Exchange will create an energy and a dynamic that we probably couldn’t create anywhere else.
I’m really looking forward to working closely with the Munch Museum to showcase the role arts and culture play in innovation and the idea of reinventing growth. Watch this space!
Looking ahead, what impact do you hope the Exchange platform will have in 2020?
The Exchange, its structure and its ideals, is actually becoming an idea that is applicable to other places and situations.
In other words, we are deliberately working to increase the Exchange’s impact through applying its structure to our individual work with companies.
For example, we’re working with IKEA Retail (Ingka) to develop their own bespoke version of the Exchange, bringing together representatives and stakeholders from across their entire company worldwide, to connect, inspire and shape the organisation’s transformation to a truly sustainable business model. Launched in Germany last year, the next face to face gathering will be held in Greenwich in the Spring.
We’ve also applied a similar open innovation format to our work with Anglo American, driving solutions across a range of key areas, as diverse as the future of work and materials science. We’re now preparing similar bespoke Exchanges for organisations in the ocean and telecommunications space.
Another new area I’m excited about this year is acceleration. The Exchange has mostly been focused on the ideation and incubation phases of innovation. This year, we want to extend our work into accelerating start-ups already in the market, helping them to rapidly scale their impact. There are so many great and innovative solutions out there, and I’m very excited to connect our Exchange network with them to help them scale!
This year’s annual gathering of the Exchange community will take place on 22-23 October in Oslo and 24-25 November in Mumbai. Watch this space for updates!