‘Young Disruptors’ Challenge NATO’s Approach to Innovation

191212ydd.jpgNORFOLK, Va. – NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Transformation Headquarters hosted the 2019 Chiefs of Transformation Conference at the Hilton Norfolk “The Main” from Dec. 11 to 12.

The conference, presented by General Andre Lanata, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, focused on warfare development initiatives for the NATO Alliance. Through small group “breakout sessions,” senior leadership engagements, industry demonstrations, and the Young Disruptors Forum, critical topics were discussed related to Innovation, Interoperability, Hybrid/Counter-Terrorism connected to Resilience and Human Capital. The theme of the conference this year was, “NATO Warfare Development: Innovation & Interoperability - Winning Tomorrow’s War Today.”

During the closing plenary, General Lanata stressed the importance of conferences, like Chiefs of Transformation Conference, that provide a platform for Member Nations and Partners to enhance collaboration, best practices, connect and share information.

“Thank you for the discussions and actionable outcomes over the past two days of dialogue,” said General Lanata. “I am deeply convinced that 29 Nations will continue to succeed and I trust the power of our network.”

For the second year in a row, the Young Disruptors Forum at Chiefs of Transformation Conference provided a unique opportunity for top-level young professionals from NATO and Partner Nations to learn and understand NATO's transformation goals. The 15 “Disruptors” from Canada, Denmark, France, Hungary, Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and the United States fully integrated into small group discussions, as well as provided feedback to General Lanata and Chiefs of Transformation Leaders present at the conference.  Five of the “Disruptors” were Virginia Wesleyan University undergraduate students, who currently reside in the Hampton Roads Community.

Evanna Hu, a small business leader, served as the Young Disruptor Forum facilitator. Last year, she jumpstarted the Young Disruptor programme to generate refreshing conversations about ways NATO can approach innovation and recruit the talents of younger generations.   

“We are trying to draw best practices from the private sector, academia and the public sector outside of NATO,” said Evanna Hu. “By taking these best practices we can incorporate them into the NATO structure that already exists, so that we can have the best of both worlds. I actually feel like people listen to us because we are young and come from very different backgrounds.”

Bence Szabo (Hungary), a Desk Officer with the Hungarian Defence Forces Command, shared his experience as a Young Disruptor and the importance of the programme continuing into the future.

“I enjoyed that I could be in the same room as three or four star generals, as well as senior leaders of the Alliance and the Member states. To offer my opinions on things, and to have them listen to me as an equal, is an honour and a great opportunity. It’s a big pleasure to be here. I really hope that this initiative will go on because I think NATO needs Young Disruptors and new ideas to cope with this ever-changing security environment,” said Bence Szabo.

Fredrik Löfgren (Sweden), a roboticist with Linköping University, stressed the importance of working outside of the military construct and welcoming greater diversity within the Alliance.

“We are disrupting the thinking of the organisation, and we are injecting new thoughts and new ideas on how the future will look,” said Fredrik Löfgren. “We need more collaboration with companies, with non-military organisations. I think it’s good to see the ‘gender-bias’ here [at the conference] … We need more women in the organisation because we need a broader perspective and, I think, women will have a broader take on the challenges and give new ideas.”

Nicole Davis (United States), a Virginia Wesleyan University student, emphasized how the Young Disruptors’ programme gave her an once-in-a-lifetime chance for her opinions to be heard by international leadership at NATO.

“For the most part, I feel like senior leadership are open to our opinions and insights, but we need to keep pushing our thoughts,” said Davis. “I think the speed of which the Alliance can react to certain situations is limited. Things change so fast. Now, a single tweet can somewhat change the entire geopolitical situation. How fast can the Alliance react, and get all the Nations together, to tackle an issue, or adapt to the new mentality that innovation requires?”

Chiefs of Transformation Conference is a key annual event that shares a higher-level of understanding on future security challenges, innovation and transformation. National Chiefs of Transformation, from across the Alliance and Partner Nations, work with Nations to drive interaction and discussion on National transformation initiatives and longer-term capability development with NATO’s senior leadership.