Words and photos by Katrina Olan, University of Asia & the Pacific 

CANNES – It’s been days since the Cannes International Festival of Creativity 2018, and my chat app’s still buzzing like crazy. It’s my Roger Hatchuel Academy (RHA) classmates, messaging each other: one’s showing us her hometown in Spain, the other is snapping us her cross-country trip through the EU, another one is simply sharing us their cat’s photos. There are long Facebook captions in different languages all linked to our class photo, friends dropping me private messages about how grateful they were for sharing the experience, and let’s not forget: epic memes as a memento of the occasion. If this isn’t #SepAnx, I don’t know what is.

It was a complete emotional turnaround from the start of the week. When I left the country, I was dead anxious. One could imagine the weight on my shoulders—I’m barely out of college and already representing the entire country for the greatest advertising festival in the world. I was overwhelmed at the thought of the world watching, wary I’d let down all the people who had such high hopes and expectations. I felt like I’d screw up one way or the other.

Then, another thought hounded me. We were thirty-five students from twenty-six countries who knew zilch about each other: how could we possibly find anything in common? Yet, at the end of the week we’re laughing and sharing stories over unlimited rosé, dancing ’til our feet can’t tell tomorrow. It’s pretty amazing how it only took five days to turn a couple of complete strangers into family. It was a whirlwind romance. We were in love with being in Cannes Lions, creativity, and the class. It was also within those five days that I learned a most valuable lesson: difference does make the difference.

DIVERSITY was one of the main themes running the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Aside from the spectacle of TECHNOLOGY, which was also a big conversation piece, the themes of diversity, empathy and inclusion were on the main stage. How could the creative industry become a place where everyone had a voice, felt like their opinions mattered, and reflect the real world? We saw these themes throughout the entire week through the workshops, talks and simply through bonding with our fellow Rogers. 

The Roger Hatchuel Academy is a five-day intensive training workshop for selected young creatives across the globe. We had talks, activities and reflection sessions. It was facilitated by The Pop Up Agency’s very own awesome tandem, Abraham Asefaw and Maksimillian Kallhed. They were our awesome homeroom teachers and mentors who guided us through the week, introducing to us their edgy business model of cracking a creative brief in 48 hours. This kind of concept was once a college side-hustle, now turned into an international career. What really stunned me about this pair was their drive and commitment to success. One of the advices they gave me, which I will never forget is: “You have to be naïve enough to believe your idea works, and stubborn enough to see it through.”

Abe and Maks were also the gateway to a plethora of speakers who talked about their passion for the work, and how all of them struggle to drive home the message that creativity is for everyone. We had top executives from giants like Lego, editors for magazines like Intern and Rolling Stone, advertising queen bees who pushed for women empowerment, and many more. The eclectic lineup of guests gave us brain pickings and new perspectives about the industry. One can really see how Cannes Lions is a melting pot of all those voices. 

Google was our most gracious sponsor for this year’s Roger Hatchuel Academy. Three out of five mornings that week were spent on Google beach, under striped umbrellas and bean bags, listening to the top brass of the engineering giant talk about the future of creativity. Our minds were opened to the possibilities of using virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence to make easier organizing the world’s information. They showcased various campaigns where digital data drove marketing success. However, much more touching than that was the fact that Google was making a conscious effort to create a future where no one would get left behind with technology. 

One of the speakers said that Google first started as a company filled with white men from the West Coast. However, they came to realize that the world wasn’t the West Coast, and it surely wasn’t filled with white men. And that was the importance of diversity: it enabled people from all walks of life to create versions of Google that would mean something to all types of audiences. 

Then, it was our turn to create something that would cater to all types of creatives. Our diverse team had to crack a brief in 48 hours, ala Pop Up Agency. Shout out to Clara (Switzerland), Cheryl (UK), Luca (Italy), Minh (Vietnam) and Han (China), you guys were an amazing team! We really put our heads together to create a platform called Creatives Discovered, which leveled the playing field for first time jobbers of diverse backgrounds. We presented this in front of Cannes Lions juries, who were impressed by our work.

The trends don’t lie. Diversity means more ideas generated, more points of views, more voices that speak to a wider range of audiences, a greater ROI for the business side, a more dignified and respected brand or company image. However, inclusion should not only be for show. It should be lived. It should be learning how to respect and love people who are different from you. 

As human beings, it’s in our nature to shy away from the unfamiliar and the uncomfortable. Our first instinct is to avoid or alienate those with different race, gender, sexuality, disability, religion, etc. but the real challenge is to walk in someone else’s shoes. The challenge is to engage in authentic dialogue with them. The most important part is how we treat each other, and how we help each other grow as part of this one giant classroom—humanity. 

Beyond the talks and workshops, the way I really discovered the value of diversity is by simply being around my classmates at the Roger Hatchuel Academy. We were such a motley bunch, sharing stories about our own personal lives and passion projects over a couple of beers. One girl was passionate about linguistics, and designed her own alphabet…another was passionate about mentorship and created a foundation that built girls’ self-confidence through creative programs… yet another friend wrote and illustrated an entire book based on theoretical and quantum physics. Everyone was so different, yet so similar. Our lingua franca was the love for creativity and the values that were common anywhere in the world.

Cannes Lions was transformative—borderline spiritual, even. I have seen, engaged and collaborated with others. I have listened to their stories; I have shared my own. Leaving Cannes was not the end, it was the just the beginning. Surely, we will meet again in the future, perhaps on the Cannes Lions stage one day giving a talk or accepting an award? In the meantime, we return to our own countries as transformed people, hoping to transform the world.

About the Roger Hatchuel Academy 

The Roger Hatchuel Academy is a five-day training course during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity designed to give students of advertising, communications and other creative disciplines the head-start they need to secure a role within the competitive creative industry post-graduation. Delegates will be given an intensive mentorship from industry thought-leaders, marketing luminaries, and the world’s most celebrated creatives.