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Robert Wolcott, KIN executive director, believes in recruiting delegates from a wide range of sectors to participate in KIN Global. “If you always look to the same people, you’ll always find the same answers,” he explains.

Robert Wolcott

Thinking bigger

With the second annual KIN Global summit approaching, Robert Wolcott and Shaina Morphew ’10 reflect on the grand, global ambitions — and steady progress — of the Kellogg Innovation Network

By Rachel Farrell

4/19/2010 - When you “think big,” grand things are bound to happen. But what happens when you think even bigger?

The Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN) intends to find out. Initiated in 2003 by Kellogg faculty members Robert Wolcott, Mohan Sawhney and a dozen corporate innovation leaders from global companies, KIN — which brings together Kellogg faculty, corporate leaders, nonprofits and governmental representatives — has an audacious goal: to change the world.

Each year, KIN hosts a global summit, KIN Global, to develop innovative ideas to build and sustain a prosperous global society. The invitation-only event convenes delegates from a wide range of industries and fosters dynamic dialogue on the biggest challenges facing the world today.

As the second annual summit approaches on May 17-19, Wolcott and Shaina Morphew ’10, a member of the student leadership team for KIN Global, share KIN’s local and global progress thus far — and its ambitions for the future.

Q: What differentiates KIN Global from other conferences at Kellogg?

Rob Wolcott: The other conferences at Kellogg are great, but there are a few things that make KIN Global different. One, it is more focused on innovative solutions to grand challenges, and more focused on leading to action. Two, we seek to develop a sense of community. In just a few days at Kellogg, we create a lot of non-obvious connections that would be hard to engineer. There are many delegates who, as a result of KIN Global, have been in touch with each other outside of Kellogg. For instance, a number of my students are Facebook friends with Admiral James Stavridis, who is the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. They think that’s pretty neat. Also, KIN Global raises visibility for organizations within the Northwestern community, such as the Global Health Initiative, Social Enterprise at Kellogg, NU Bienen Chorale, and SHAREcircle.

Q: What has sprung from this community thus far?

RW: I’ll give you an example. Last year, we had a concert at KIN Global, “Etudes for Innovation,” which we’ll have every year. (Purchase tickets here for this year’s “Etudes,” which is open to the public.) At the concert, a fellow named Kimmie Weeks spoke for about 10 minutes about how he survived the Liberian Civil War, and as a result, launched Youth Action International, which is devoted to supporting youth in post-war countries. Then a few members of the audience said, “Can I give something too?” This wasn’t planned; we didn’t do anything to cause people to give money. But the next day at lunch, Professor Mohan Sawhney and Gil Penchina ’97, CEO of, got up and raised almost $50,000 for Youth Action International. They used the money to build women’s business centers in Sierra Leone and in Liberia.

And so, KIN Global is reaching people that we couldn’t reach by just hiring more staff and faculty [at Kellogg]. We’ve got a capacity constraint, so the way to [scale this] is by building a community where people have a real affinity and work together to accomplish things with Kellogg as their platform.

Q: Tell me about KIN Global’s efforts to help Iceland recover from last year’s financial collapse.

RW: Last year, we held a smaller KIN event in Miami and talked about the economic situation in Iceland. As a result of those conversations, we took a group of Kellogg faculty and alumni to Iceland for four days. We visited about 20 companies in different industries and got a sense of their competitive industries and strengths. Then we created a high-level strategy for Iceland 2020 that is now on the desk of Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. She and her team have assured us that they’re going to use a large percentage of what we’ve created as part of the plan to grow out of their economic morass.

SM: This is a great example of someone who recognized that innovation can lead to global prosperity. The conversations at KIN led to this tangible strategy to help Iceland get out of a crisis.

RW: Nordics have an interesting challenge because they’re exceptionally prosperous. You go to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland or Iceland, and you find pretty much all of the conveniences anyone could want. It’s often hard to get people to be entrepreneurial in an environment like that. So the problems they are facing are the opposite of those faced by emerging economies, where there is still a ton of work to do. Some people realize that if they don’t keep moving and innovating, they’re going to fall behind, and eventually they’re going to have a big problem. It’s a very interesting study for the United States to think about.

Q: What’s the advantage of recruiting people from all different sectors to participate in KIN Global?

RW: If you always look to the same people, you’ll always find the same answers. And I think that’s the primary issue. Furthermore, most of these grand challenges will not be solved by one sector alone. Most of them are intractable when looked at through one lens.

SM: And because we haven’t solved these grand challenges — and there are many we aren’t even close to solving — we need to start pulling new ideas that we haven’t explored already.

Q: What benefit does KIN Global offer to Kellogg students, in particular?

SM: There’s a lot of value in being able to use the skills we are gaining at Kellogg to begin solving some of these challenging global problems. It’s also a great opportunity to gather insights from people beyond the academic community — whether they are alumni working in different industries or NGOs or government, or people who have been previous KIN delegates. As a student, the opportunity to interact with them and learn from them is invaluable.

RW: As a school, we need to inspire students to find what’s most meaningful to them, and help them realize they too can do the things these accomplished people are doing.

I want the students who are part of KIN Global to recognize that they too are delegates — just like Admiral James Stavridis or the president of Kraft International. They can look at people like Nancy Barry and say, “I can’t believe she created Enterprise Solutions to Poverty and Women’s World Banking. I can’t believe she was able to accomplish that.” Well, good. Believe that, and believe that you could do it too. That’s why you’re here. To think bigger, to think about the impact you can have on the world.