It took less than a day on our Global Leader Experience (GLE) for the group of UK and Chinese students to call themselves a family; this group of future leaders were able to connect in such a meaningful way that cultural differences were swept aside. 

Following President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK, and talk of a ‘golden era’ in China-UK relations, the importance of building ties between the two countries is a theme we have heard frequently -  and passionately - during our time in Beijing and Shanghai. Senior figures from Ministries, Government Committees, business and universities are setting the challenge to our young leaders to connect, engage and take responsibility for the two countries, urging them to find ways of collaborating to tackle the major issues we face.

Running programmes like the GLE that bring together young leaders from two such culturally distinct countries we see huge appetite for this collaboration, but having just spent time at Tencent I'm reminded of the great digital divide between China and the rest of the world. Over 600 million people in China use Tencent's WeChat platform, nearly ‎900 million use QQ. Talking to the company’s Senior Executives, they revealed that only a tiny percentage of WeChat’s users are not Chinese. Global understanding of China's digital platforms is shockingly low given their scale, reach and ubiquity across the world's biggest population.  

Now we all know of the 'Great Firewall', but leaving that to one side how can we find the common digital space to connect? If we want to build genuine communication and engagement in this ever smaller world, where can people convene? The execs at Tencent couldn't speculate on what this digital convening space could be, but if we are to build meaningful and effective relationships between future and current leaders across the world we need to find a common digital space, and find it fast. 

The Global Leader Experience is delivered by Common Purpose Student Experiences in partnership with China Youth Daily, under the patronage of the All-China Youth Federation whose activities reach 300 million young people in China. The programme is sponsored by UnionPay International, the global arm of China UnionPay, who have operations across five continents.