Diversity and innovation: How diverse classmates enrich learning and creativity

Madlen Popignatova 17
Article by: Sophie Poulsen
Diversity and innovation: How diverse classmates enrich learning and creativity

After spending 20 years working as a successful IT consultant, Gautam Shah was looking for something more. He was passionate about wildlife conservation, which seemed a far cry from his first career. Looking for the tools and support to take a bold step into a new phase of his career, Gautam joined the THNK Executive Leadership Program.


Three years later, in partnership with some of the classmates he met in the program, Gautam launched Internet of Elephants, a wildlife conservation app that uses augmented reality to teach its users about wildlife conservation. In 2018, the organization was awarded a grant from the National Geographic Society and named one of Africa's most innovative companies of 2018 by Fast Company!


Gautam says he could not have considered starting the company if it weren’t for his THNK classmates, each of whom brought their own unique expertise, knowledge, and culture to the company:


  • Ellis Bartholomeus, an expert in games, introduced Gautam to critical people in the game industry and joined the company as an advisor and Professor of Play.
  • Anne Miltenburg, Founder of The Brandling, created Internet of Elephants’ visual identity and acts as the company’s Communications Director.
  • Natalia Truchi, a strategy consultant based in Amsterdam, organized campaign design workshops.
  • Darcie Goodwin, an expert in internal communications, helped organize events.
  • Ernestien Idenburg is the company’s lawyer.
  • Bas Hochstenbach came on as strategic advisor and ended up playing an important role in business development.
  • Ida Norrby helped with design work to bring a concept to life for a major pitch.

Internet of Elephants is a wildlife conservation app that uses augmented reality to teach its users about wildlife conservation.

Diversity at THNK

It is no coincidence that Gautam ended up developing Internet of Elephants together with his THNK classmates; while they all share a passion for creative leadership and wildlife conservation, they bring range of diverse backgrounds and experiences that contribute to one truly innovative initiative.

Diversity is, in fact, an intentional design element of the THNK Executive Leadership Program. In the process of putting together a class, THNK’s admissions team believes in meticulous class curation, making sure that every class is diverse as possible— whether this is the 50/50 male-female split or the balance between different sectors and nationalities. The class curation process means that each class has their own DNA.

Gautam Shah
Gautam Shah
Internet of Elephants
"In the THNK Executive Leadership Program, everyone brings a different background, experience, point of view, and personality to the table, and that is something I had never experienced."

Each class is evenly made up of participants who have spent most of their career working in a particular sector: corporate, entrepreneurship, and non-profit/social enterprises.

For instance, here are three participants from Class 12:

Yoshi Hashimoto is Director of Global Sales and Effectiveness and Corporate Strategy at Elsevier. After a successful career as an investment banker, he decided to shift towards delivering impact for an information analytics company.

Vladimir Borisov is the CEO of Buzzaar.eu, a word-of-mouth marketing agency. Since 1999, he has launched 11 companies.

Mwihaki Muraguri is a social change practitioner who currently leads Paukwa House, a platform dedicated to showcasing positive change, impact, and progress in Africa.


diversity and innovation

Why diversity matters

So why do we curate our classes to be as diverse as possible?

For one, diverse companies are more innovative.

A recent study titled Do Pro-Diversity Policies Improve Corporate Innovation? found that diverse companies may be more innovative because teams that are made up of people with a wider range of interests, experiences, and backgrounds, understand their customers better than less diverse teams. They also tend to be better at solving problems.

Diverse companies also have a sort of “halo effect,” meaning that people — regardless of whether they are women or minorities — are more attracted to these companies because they appear to be more enlightened.

With a significant link between diversity and innovation, it is not surprising that diverse workforces also perform better financially.

Rajiv Ball
Rajiv Ball
THNK School of Creative Leadership
"Diversity and innovation go hand in hand and that’s been proven in study after study. The ability to look at a problem from multiple perspectives is critical to developing new insights upon which new innovations are based. Having participants in the room that come from different backgrounds is one of the ways in which you create diversity."

Internet of Elephants is a perfect example of diversity and innovation in action: Seven business professionals from all over the world, with their own successful careers in their respective fields, came together to build a product that brings positive change and impact to the wildlife industry.

Creative solutions often come from combining different and seemingly unrelated ideas, and in creative teamwork, having a mix of people is crucial.

In other words, diversity unlocks innovation.

diversity and innovation
Creative solutions often come from combining different and seemingly unrelated ideas. In other words, diversity unlocks innovation. Click To Tweet

To discover how your company can unlock innovation through diversity, join the THNK Executive Leadership Program.