Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Voices of Davos


This meeting is all about conversations. It's an opportunity to connect with interesting people from around the world, all with important perspectives. I just want to share some of the voices I've heard so far this week. These are based on my contemporaneous notes. It will give you a great idea of why this is such a blast.

Zanelle Mbeki (first lady of South Africa), talked about the opportunities in market failure. Pointed out that most of the public does not know what social entrepreneurship is, and that in the nonprofit world it is such a buzzword that all groups seeking funds are saying they are social entrepreneurs.

Paolo Coelho (Brazilian author, The Alchemist) talked about what we aren't willing to talk about: the role of love in what we do. He pointed out three kinds of love: eros, agape and philos. He focused on the last, philos, love of your neighbor, pointing out that this word is related to philanthropy.
He made it clear that we need to be less uncomfortable about this love: love is why we do what we do (he was speaking to social entrepreneurs, but he felt it was bigger). His closing remark to us was:
"In every single eye in the WEF, is this one sentence from McCartney and Lennon, 'all you need is love.'"

I have had great chats with different social entrepreneurs. Isaac from Nigeria makes mobile toilets and gives them to poor widows to use to generate income: "shit business is serious business." Sheela Patel of SPARC in Mumbai, India, and I talked about IT needs for her communities: the poor. Sounded like she needs something I've seen in Brazil, and so I hope to make the connection. She also explained that the illiterate poor women she serves are more committed to literacy for their children than for themselves.

Rory Stear, the head of Freeplay Energy, met with Nicholas Negroponte of MIT's Media Lab about their $100 laptop project. Rory is normally quite skeptical, but he was enthusiastic about the possibility that this would really make an impact. Later on, I had the chance to chat with Negroponte about getting a development unit to use to write software for this platform, and I was definitely encouraged.

Maritta Koch-Weser, the head of GEXSI, met in front of my poster at the social entrepreneur meeting, and we ended up talking at length about the kind of socially beneficial projects she wants to fund. Someday Benetech may have a project for them, but it was very important for me to understand what Maritta is looking for, since I run into great social entrepreneurial ideas every week that Benetech cannot begin to work on!

That's less than a quarter of the conversations I've had over the last day or two. I'm learning, connecting, exploring every hours. Really intense, but an opportunity not to be missed for the communities I serve, and of course Benetech!

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