My Positive Life with Yana Peel

Yana Peel, 2014 Copyright - David Bebber

Yana Peel is CEO of Intelligence Squared Group, the world’s leading forum for live debate. A businesswoman, philanthropist, investor and writer, she is also a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and co-founder of the Outset Contemporary Art Fund.

Yana’s involvement in the arts extends to holding board and advisory positions on the Tate Executive Council, British Fashion Council, V&A, V-A-C Foundation Moscow, Para/Site Art Space and Asia Art Archive – as well as writing a series of best-selling children’s books with proceeds going to the NSPCC.

As she prepares for next week’s Intelligence Squared and Vanity Fair Digital Summit 2015, Yana tells us how she keeps her busy life positive. 

Yana Peel, 2014 Copyright  -  David Bebber

Yana Peel, 2014 Copyright – David Bebber

How would you describe yourself in one word?


In your own words, what do you do?

Bring people together around the most exciting ideas of our time.

Who is the greatest influence in your life or career?

My parents emigrated from Russia during the Cold War [Yana was born in St Petersburg], bringing me to Canada in 1978 for a future that afforded boundless opportunity. Thanks to them I have shaped a life on uncompromised debates, creative collaborations and defiance of boundaries.

What is your favourite part of your job?

The people I am privileged to meet. I have a crush on talent – be it an innovative hip hop artist or an impassioned economist. 

What is the most challenging part of your job?

Prioritising ideas when there is so much to be done to reach unprecedented audiences with exciting content in new ways.

What is your greatest achievement?

Raising two children whose company inspires me.

What was your Plan B?

I am working on Plan A, B and C simultaneously. Though to me, they feel like A+, A and A-.

What is your most prized possession?

My education. As an immigrant, you know that everything else is ephemeral. But the iPhone watch that came in the post this morning is also top of the list; at least this week!

What’s the best advice you’ve been given?

Always send the elevator back down. 

Please complete the sentence: “I could not live without…”

The website, almonds, British fashion, Intelligence Squared podcasts, Mac Ample Pink lip gloss, Muji pens, Atelier Josh Wood and bookstores.

If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?  

I’d have a girls’ night in with Gertrude Stein, Nina Simone, Rahel Varnhagen, Anna Akhmatova, Golda Meir, Patti Smith, Madame Chiang Kai-Shek and my four best friends – Diala, Dafna, Bodil and Mimi.

Patti Smith, Nina Simone and Madame Chiang Kai-shek

Yana’s dream dinner party: Patti Smith, Nina Simone and Madame Chiang Kai-shek

Do you support a charity or cause?

Many, largely anchored in educational causes that bring learning to wide audiences. For example, Intelligence Squared partners with Debate Mate to bring free mentor-led training in 21st century skills to hundreds of schools across the UK, and I have been on the board of NSPCC for over a decade, with proceeds from my book series for children going towards therapeutic centres across the UK.

My alignment with cultural institutions defines me, but I would not call it charitable. Those I support include the Tate, V&A, Chisenhale Gallery, Gasworks and Studio Voltaire.

I co-chair Hong Kong’s longest-standing (and most exciting) independent arts venue, Para/Site, and am on the business advisory committee of Lincoln Centre in New York.

What are your positive fashion staples this season?

Stella McCartney jumpsuits and dry shampoo.

Sustainability and consumption are two words you will hardly find in the same sentence – which brands do you think are good quality and doing their bit for people and the planet?

Duro Olowu and Maiyet – positive luxury.


MAIYET, Spring 2015

What is your personal luxury?

To paraphrase John Waters: the freedom to buy any book you want without looking at the price, and never having to be around jerks.

What is your most treasured luxury item?

A timeless piece of jewellery designed by my husband and Eliane Fattal, re-worked from an antique Victorian pin, for my 40th birthday this year. The embodiment of positive luxury.

What steps do you take to make your life more positive? 

As many steps as possible, usually vertically, in the lush hills of Hong Kong.

The Intelligence Squared – Vanity Fair Digital Summit takes place on Thursday 11 June, 2pm – 7pm at Shoreditch Town Hall. Click here to see the full programme and buy tickets.

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