Interview

with the inspiring Yana Peel

The CEO of Intelligence Squared, young global leader of the World Economic Forum & mother of two talked to us about her work, the Arts, life in H.K & her every-day beauty routine.

Yana Peel is the CEO of Intelligence Squared, an entrepreneur, a young global leader of the World Economic Forum, the author of a bestselling children’s book, and a mother of two. To say the least, this woman is at the hub of what is happening in the world.

Having left her career at Goldman Sachs in London in 2003, she set off to found Outset Contemporary Art Fund, a private foundation focused on supporting the public arts.

Today, Yana is based in Hong Kong leading her Intelligence Squared group, the world’s leading forum for live debate. Picture traditional debates that have seen guests such as Tony Blair or Salman Rushdie, comprised of two speakers per side arguing passionately over various subjects.

Having started out as a London based-series, the company has grown and expanded into an ambitious operation with events across the globe.

Here is our interview with this passionate CEO, discussing her work, the Arts, life in HK and her every-day beauty routine.

Intelligence Squared empowers informed decision-making about the issues of today.

BWB: Tell us a little bit about Intelligence Squared and the mission of the company?

Intelligence Squared is the world’s leading forum for live debate. It brings together the brightest minds to the broadest audiences; Intelligence Squared empowers informed decision-making about the issues of today.

BWB: Today our way to get information is mostly through media and mostly digital. Do you feel that people need more live conversation?

In our era of personal and professional dependence on FaceTime and Skype, “live” conversation has so many contexts and outlets!

While thousands of people physically attend the 50 live, international events we host every year, the live broadcasts by BBC, NPR, YouTube and post-event podcasters enable us to reach up to hundreds of millions of people. So depending on how our friends and fans wish to be engaged, we can be sure to reach them through various media.

I am a techno-optimist, believing that “being alone with one’s computer” can lead to meaningful engagement, education and entertainment.

BWB: How are you encouraging young generations to get involved? What is your advice in a world where so many people are ‘alone with their computers’?

There are great debates to be about whether social media is making us anti-social and we have, in fact, disputed whether ‘the Internet is making us stupid.’ (For the record, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, claimed victory for his side in Hong Kong, arguing that it certainly is not!). Most recently, Jeremy Paxman moderated an excellent Intelligence Squared event at London’s Shoreditch Town Hall on the topic of whether the “internet is a failed utopia.” This first conference, a Digital Summit in partnership with Vanity Fair, will no doubt lead to many incarnations in years to come.

Personally, thought, I am a techno-optimist, believing that “being alone with one’s computer” can lead to meaningful engagement, education and entertainment.

Next summer, I hope to travel to Singularity University to deepen students’ skills for solving grand problems, a subject so demanded by the world today.

As a passionate hiker, especially in the hills near my Hong Kong home, I enjoy spending time alone with my technology, discovering new music on Spotify or Fermata Entertainment (grandfermata.co). And of course, I enjoy catching up on Intelligence Squared 50-minute podcasts that feature speakers like Thomas Piketty, and Jonathan Frantzen!

In addition, my work with Tate is currently focused on all things digital; Our collaborations include Minecraft maps that present virtual environments inspired by artworks from the Tate’s collection, and ‘Tateshots’ for Khan Academy which have engaged unprecedented global audience numbers in innovative ways.

Next summer, I hope to travel to Singularity University to deepen students’ skills for solving grand problems, a subject so demanded by the world today.

BWB: You have also been very active in the Art world. Can you share a great memory from your years leading Outset Contemporary Art Fund?

Since cofounding Outset in 2003, I have shared many memorable moments with great artists, cultural leaders and inspirational friends. Our efforts aligned with patrons and corporate partners allowed us to bring hundreds of works to international museums. One particulare highlight was when we enabled the production of Steve McQueen’s film GIARDINI for the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2009. Many now know Steve McQueen as the Oscar-winning director of 12 Years a Slave; however earlier films such as Hunger, Bear and Deadpan (both silent), have raised vital questions, which he has addressed in very meaningful ways.

BWB: This month our me-magazine celebrates Women of Inspiration. As such an inspirational woman yourself, how do you balance your work with other interests like the Arts and your family?

For me, it’s 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration! I am privileged to do the work I love because of a support network that enables it: wonderful colleagues and cultural collaborators, a husband and 2 children who provide the best motivation and company, travel-loving parents, a stellar assistant and super-nanny, and loyal friends who put up with my seeming absence of fixed address.

BWB: You worked in London, now Hong Kong, and traveling across the globe is part of your work. What is your advice on travelling well?

Bring a great book (currently mine is Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind, ahead of author Yuval Harari’s season launch for us in Sept.), a well-curated playlist, a cashmere blanket from Maddy Thompson and an exciting agenda for when you get to the other side.

Charlotte Tilbury is my one-stop shop for “magic” creams and quick-fix beauty solutions.

BWB: What is your Beauty routine? Any brand that you recently discovered and love?

Charlotte Tilbury is my one-stop shop for “magic” creams and quick-fix beauty solutions. Bodas beautiful, everyday basics are also essential for the girl on the go (and soon the guy as well…)

BWB: What is your wellness routine?

I surround myself with people who give me energy. Coffee from Cru also helps!

Yana Peel Interview

‘Art for Baby’, my big series of books for little people, has introduced millions of children to visual art over the past decade.

BWB: What to you do to introduce the Arts to your children? Any favorite places you like to take them?

Museums are a favored landing spot and comfort zone for our family wherever we may be; in New York, Dia Beacon, the MET and Moma are some favorites. In London, we enjoy going to Tate, The Serpentine Gallery, Chisenhale, Studio Voltaire and The British Museum. In Hong Kong, I co-chair ParaSite Art Space; it’s a very meaningful art space for the community and the region and we can often be found there.

‘Art for Baby’, my big series of books for little people, has introduced millions of children to visual art over the past decade. The proceeds from the books have been directed to the National Society for the Protection Against Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), whose Therapeutic Board I have had the fortune of being engaged with for many years.

We filled 3,000 seats months ahead of the ultimate clash of civilizations, featuring Boris Johnson versus Mary Beard.

BWB: What are your next projects? Any live debate that we should be on the look-out for this Fall?

Our autumn programme promises to be sensational (and sold out), with motions including:

  • Let’s End the Tyranny of the Test: The English schools’ examination system demeans education.
  • Britain Doesn’t Need to be at the Top Table.
  • The Nuclear Deal with Iran Won’t Make the World a Safer Place.
  • We will also host speakers including Niall Ferguson to Terry Gilliam.
  • The most exciting debate for my history-mad son will be Greeks v’s Romans in November. We filled 3,000 seats months ahead of the ultimate clash of civilizations, featuring Boris Johnson versus Mary Beard. By popular demand, we will be bringing the event from Central Hall Westminster to 150 cinemas, as democratizing debate and discussion is at the core of our mission at Intelligence Squared!

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