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​Jonathan Liebmann has been named a World Economic Forum Global Shaper for his success in regenerating the inner city and driving development.
THE man behind the inner city’s Maboneng Precinct, Jonathan Liebmann, has been selected as a Global Shaper and will represent South Africa at the World Economic Forum (WEF) gathering in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in May.

Global Shapers are “young, extraordinary individuals with great potential for future leadership roles in society”. They are aged between 20 and 30 years.

The WEF is “an independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas”, according to the organisation’s website.

It estimates that 50 percent of the world’s population is under the age of 27, mostly living in urban areas. “With this in mind, we are becoming increasingly aware that solutions to our global challenges must purposefully engage youth at all levels – locally, regionally, nationally and globally. This generation has the passion, dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit to shape the future.”

It already has a community of Young Global Leaders, who are in their mid- to late-30s, but it was felt that, in view of a younger world, a new community should be created – the Global Shapers hub. It will “provide youth with a global platform to shape the future – integrating the personal, community and global dimension”, which is united by “a common desire to channel the members’ tremendous energy and enthusiasm into building a more peaceful and inclusive world”.

Liebmann says modestly of the nomination: “I guess I am quite excited about it.” He is 29 years old, and says he joins another 15 Global Shapers in South Africa.

Maboneng Precinct
The Maboneng Precinct, in downtown Johannesburg, consists of Arts on Main and Main Street Life, two highly successful refurbishment developments that provide work and recreation spaces to artists, filmmakers, fashion designers, actors, entrepreneurs and residents who have moved into the exciting spaces with enthusiasm. Liebmann recently completed three other buildings, which are already occupied: The Main Change, Revolution House and Fox Street Studios.

In his precinct, Liebmann bought several derelict warehouse and office buildings and converted them into have-to-be-there places that have rejuvenated the eastern edge of the CBD. The area now offers restaurants, markets, flats and penthouses, a hotel, galleries, shops, a cinema and creative work spaces. He is also building his own house on the top of one of the buildings.

“I am passionate about upgrading the environment and bringing people back into the city, creating new jobs and creating entrepreneurs,” Liebmann said in his You Tube election video.

His biggest success had been in creating many young new business owners. “All these developments have facilitated the emergence of new businesses, and what comes of the new businesses is new employment.”

Liebmann is keen to promote economic development in the city, and has created a brand called Made in Maboneng. The entrepreneurs who have moved into the building are encouraged to use each other’s services; it means that they are buying locally, encouraging local businesses, and giving new businesses a kick-start.

“This should happen across the entire city, but not just the city, the suburbs and the whole of South Africa.”

He will soon have a directory of retailers and others offering services in the area.

Halala Award
In May 2010, Liebmann picked up a Johannesburg Development Agency Halala Joburg Award in the Relaxing and Playing Joburg category, which acknowledged his use of “new and old buildings to provide unique recreational spaces”.

He was also recently invited to give a TEDx talk in Stellenbosch. He says that being a Global Shaper has put him in a “relatively public position”. It means he now has a platform in which to engage with public officials in a way he has not done beforehand. “I am making decisions that affect the public realm.”

There is a network of hubs of Global Shapers around the world, stretching from Ottawa in Canada to Beijing in China. In South Africa, there are hubs in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Tshwane. Global Shapers are expected to organise events and activities that have a huge effect on their local community, thus catalysing fresh ideas and entrepreneurial solutions to their cities’ challenges.

“Shapers will also get involved in cross-mentoring with other World Economic Forum communities.”

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