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Last updated: Mon. Dec. 23, 2013 - 09:59 am EDT

Gallery owner brings youth leadership hub to Fort Wayne

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Leadership in Fort Wayne is about to get younger.

Art gallery owner Dan Swartz is selecting a team of 20-somethings to join Global Shapers, an international network that helps with professional growth, while attacking societal issues and problems.

Swartz says he had to do a little arm-twisting to persuade officials of the organization that Fort Wayne was worthy of establishing a chapter, called a hub.

The group is an initiative of the World Economic Forum, an alliance in Geneva committed to improving global conditions.

“Usually, they’re in political and financial capitals, like New York and London,” said Swartz, owner of the Wunderkammer Co.

“Those are the places they like to locate, but I sold them on Fort Wayne’s history and the good companies we have here and the ones we’re nurturing as well.”

The community activist said he pointed to Fort Wayne-based Vera Bradley as one success story. The company designs and makes quilted cotton handbags, luggage, accessories and home décor goods. Three years ago, its initial public offering raised at least $176 million.

“There was a little bit of back-and-forth and they even asked about locating in Indianapolis, but I was able to convince them that Fort Wayne is unique – and that I would work my (butt) off.”

Emily Davis of Boulder, Colo., didn’t have it quite as hard. She – like Swartz – is the Global Shapers’ founding curator in her town. Though Denver is the capital city, Davis said Global Shapers organizers approached her.

“That is highly unusual,” said Davis, who’s been involved in the group about six months.

She consults nonprofits for a living. “I’m sure they had some point of reference about Boulder.”

And likely after checking into Swartz’s lofty claims about the Summit City, Global Shapers granted the chapter, which requires no membership dues or pays any of its participants.

Because half of the world’s population is younger than 27, forum officials feel it is increasingly important to get these people involved in the challenges facing the global community. The group has about 3,000 members and 277 hubs.

Swartz hopes to make a difference in Fort Wayne. He and his hub will be interested in addressing issues, such as urban decay and disconnect by residents who feel they’re not affected by inner-city ills.

“There are other things we will look at as well,” Swartz said, “but it’s not up to me. It’s up to the hub as a whole.”

Within a year he hopes to have 15 or so members.

“We will be looking for people doing great stuff on their own as entrepreneurs, as well as people doing great stuff within a company,” Swartz said.

Sam Graves is president of the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana. One of the group’s missions is to cultivate talent. Graves doesn’t see Swartz’s undertaking as a threat to his organization.

“Oh, not at all,” Graves said. “In fact, I could see us working together. I think what they’re doing is more projects driven, but definitely there’s room for both.”

Davis said that is the best way to approach establishing a new hub.

“We wondered about how we would recruit people when there are so many organizations like this in Boulder,” she said. “We are collaborative, not competitive. Every community is unique and Boulder is a hotbed for startups and innovative companies.”

Swartz sees the same here.

“I’m a bit of a nerd about Fort Wayne and its history,” he said. “I feel passionate about the city and have always been that way.”

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