Alpine Inspiration: Villars-sur-Ollon

The challenges facing our shared planet are large and complex. But a small village in the mountains of Switzerland is set to become a platform for empowering future global change-makers, by bridging generational divides and nurturing collaboration across disciplines. Their mission: accelerating the transition to net zero, with a special focus on emerging technologies, energy transition and nature-based solutions. Here’s what makes Villars-sur-Ollon the ideal environment to create this new generation of systems leaders.

Villars-sur-Ollon

Located in the Swiss Alps, the scenic village of Villars-sur-Ollon is the perfect place to take inspiration from nature. Situated at 1300 meters altitude, Villars enjoys breathtaking views of the famous Mont Blanc Mountain and Lake Geneva, and boasts two glaciers within hiking distance.

This picturesque village also has a proud history of international education dating back to the early 20th century. Based on a formula combining academic study, sport and health, numerous establishments flourished in Villars during this period, and in the years after World War II, the plateau hosted nearly 40 schools. Today, four prestigious international boarding schools are attended by 700 children from 65 countries.

Regional collaboration for global impact

In recent years, the beautiful scenery of Switzerland has borne witness to the dramatic changes affecting our planet because of climate change. As temperatures rise, the rich biodiversity of the Swiss mountains is changing; and the glaciers are shrinking at an alarming rate. The country’s extraordinary natural beauty means it has a front-row seat when it comes to understanding what is at stake as we battle climate change. And when it comes to international collaboration, the Lake Geneva region has a rich history of dialogue, action and research. Home to the highest density of international organizations in the world, Geneva is host to the European headquarters of the United Nations, the world’s largest physics laboratory, CERN and the World Economic Forum, whose annual summit in Davos brings together world leaders and business heavyweights.

As well as having played an important role in the creation of the highly respected International Baccalaureate programme, the Lake Geneva region is also home to three top-tier universities, ranked among the world’s top 200 academic institutions: the University of Geneva, the University of Lausanne and the prestigious research university, EPFL. This wider ecosystem offers enormous potential for collaboration, knowledge-sharing and joint action. Fertile ground indeed for empowering the ‘net zero generation’ through intergenerational collaboration and systems leadership.

Switzerland’s role as a world leader

Switzerland is among the world’s largest trading hubs, handling everything from oil, metals, minerals, to agricultural products and is the global leader in sugar, cotton, oilseed, and cereals trading. As major drivers of the biodiversity and climate crises, the energy, food, and transport sectors must lead the way to achieving net-zero CO² emissions. Today fossil fuels are the source of roughly ¾ of greenhouse gas emissions. The agriculture sector, together with forestry and other land uses, contributes over 20% of carbon emissions.

Switzerland can do much more to accelerate systemic innovation across these sectors. Although it came only 15th in the latest Climate Change Performance Index (which ranks 60 countries and the EU), Switzerland topped the IMD’s 2021 World Competitiveness Ranking and its 2020 World Talent Ranking. For the 11th year in a row, Switzerland was also ranked the world’s most innovative economy in the 2021 Global Innovation Index of the World Intellectual Property Organization.

Villars: A sense of place, a sense of purpose

The Villars Institute was inspired by the vision of Marco Dunand, one of the founders of the Villars Alpine Resort, who, along with his business partner, Jérome de Meyer, set out to create an educational platform that would combine hospitality, learning, and sustainability. This initial idea evolved into a new independent not-for-profit foundation, the Villars Institute.

As momentum built behind this initiative, academic and research partners from across the globe joined the Institute. Working alongside these partners, the Villars Institute will provide a platform for cultural, educational, environmental and scientific pursuits. Each year, the village of Villars will host keystone events, bringing together young people and experts: the Villars Symposium, the Villars Summit and the Villars Music Academy. Each of these elements reflects a single purpose: to collaborate and build scalable solutions, for the health of the planet and for all its inhabitants.