The Global
27 April 2021

The Forum of Young Global Leaders and overlapping fields of power

The Forum of Young Global Leaders brings together leaders from different fields across the globe, including acting ministers of state. How does the YGL programme relate to the idea of national representative democracies?

By Julia Bethwaite
Doctoral Researcher in International Relations and Academic Coordinator of the Master’s Degree Programme in Leadership for Change, Faculty of Management and Business, Tampere University, Finland


In 2020, Sanna Marin, the youngest prime minister in Finland’s history, and Annika Saarikko, deputy prime minister and minister of science and culture, became members of the exclusive Young Global Leaders (YGL) network, an organization closely connected to the World Economic Forum (WEF). At the time of their nomination as members of the YGL, both Marin and Saarikko were active members of the Finnish Parliament. This has prompted debate in Finland. To what extend can ministers belong to global networks that carry great lobbyist potential? Can membership in such an organization function as a potential channel of influence by forces beyond the Finnish field of power? How do national and transnational fields of power interact and to what effect?

The Forum of Young Global Leaders is a five-year programme that brings together leaders from different fields across the globe. The programme enables its members to develop new skills and provides them with privileged access to a network of elites. It is thus a concentration of cultural and social as well as symbolic capital that the network’s members have a chance to accumulate. The leaders enrich the network with their specific skillsets and accomplishments, enhancing it with symbolic capital. For example, the international reputation of Sanna Marin as the world’s youngest prime minister arguably makes her appealing to the YGL programme.

As stated publicly, the programme is aligned with the mission of the World Economic Forum and promotes private-public partnerships in addressing global public issues. This can contradict the independent, apolitical nature of the organization, which is why it has been debated whether ministers should be allowed to join and participate in such programmes. The YGL candidates, ranging from accomplished political and business actors to representatives of academia and the arts, must be younger than 38 years old. The nominated candidates are shortlisted for further review by the World Economic Forum and thereafter are reviewed by the selection committee and the Young Global Leaders Advisory Group. The fact that the new members of the organization are being selected by other leaders raises questions about the transparency of the nomination process and emphasizes its hegemonic nature of curating a new global elite by the current elite.

As I argue in my PhD research analysing art institutions and their relation to national and transnational fields of power, becoming an actor on a transnational field of power offers opportunities of influence of different kind. The actors have a chance to influence others – and to become influenced themselves. Pierre Bourdieu’s conceptualization of a field of power can help to make sense of power dynamics that take shape on national and transnational fields of power. On the national field of power, dominant groups struggle for controlling the state and for possessing statist capital and symbolic power. The transnational or global field of power is closely connected to national fields, including the national field of power, and thus its actors are not fully detached from their national fields. Moreover, a global field of power can affect national fields, and therefore position-takings on a global field of power can shape practices within nation-states. Acting on a global field of power, national political actors become vulnerable to attempts of influence from outside their national fields.


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Photo by Lanju Fotografie on Unsplash