Friday, February 24, 2006

Davos retrospective

I'm looking back at my visit to Davos a few weeks ago, and pulling together some of the highlights. I've also had the benefit of getting some great photos sent by other people that I can use (thanks, Marketa!). The big one was taking my son, Jimmy, with me. We had a great time, and seeing things through Jimmy's eyes was quite helpful.

People have asked if I've made any big scores as a result of attending the WEF this year. The answer is, I don't know yet! I made a bunch of new connections and strengthened many old relationships. I learned new things, especially from my social entrepreneur peers and other nontraditional attendees like the Young Global Leaders and the Tech Pioneers (the Forum invites a handful of new tech company founders to attend). Social change depends on people, and the best thing about the WEF is getting to connect with people who have greatly above average ability to influence social change, through their corporations, governments, NGOs (non-governmental organizations, the global term for nonprofits), churches/mosques/synagogues/religious institution and unions. I am certain that some of these people will directly benefit one of Benetech's projects, and probably by extension, other social sector projects (because we often make links among people with common interests or issues). One measure is that there are at least fifteen people with whom I have a specific follow-up task to pursue (I'll start on those right after this blog!).


So, the highlights were all people. One terrific guy is Isaac Durojaiye from Nigeria. His social entrepreneurial effort is making plastic toilets (Porta-potties in California parlance) and providing them to unemployed widows and youth to create jobs. As he puts it: "shit business is serious business." One of the best memories of Isaac was standing in the Schatzalp hotel holding a laptop to his ear like it was a cell phone, because someone had made a Skype connection to Nigeria. Isaac is so big, it actually fit. Richard Branson loved Isaac's project when he met a dozen social entrepreneurs: I hope something comes of that!


Jimmy was very excited about the fair trade people. When I mentioned that Paul Rice, "Mr. Fair Trade Coffee" in the U.S., was one of the social entrepreneurs, Jimmy immediately wanted to meet him. Safia Minney, of Peopletree, makes fair trade fashion.





China and India were big topics of this Forum. China's social entrepreneurs are under-represented in Davos, probably because of the relatively tight control on such things in China. India and its neighbors are very well represented, partly because of the entrepreneurial culture of the region and because of the huge issues in the area. Plus, India threw one heck of a party on Saturday night, with Hindi pop singers.

Of course, part of the attraction of Davos is spending time with fun people in a mountain setting. The most fun thing I did was sledding down the mountain in the dark. We ate fondue. We danced at the India party. They don't call us "social entrepreneurs" by mistake! It might seem a little fluffy when we have such serious issues to work on. However, the chance to socialize with other people who understand your challenges is very welcome. Plus, getting a chance to eat and talk together is the best thing for serious collaboration. The real meat of any conference is not the program: it's the networking. And, that's the speciality of the World Economic Forum!

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