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Showing posts from January, 2007

The Many Davos

Amazing how fast we slide right back into "real life." Davos was only a couple of days ago and already I'm neck deep into my normal work.

It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the many faces of the Davos experience. Each person attending has many options to choose among, and you can't do it all. Here are just a few of the Davos' I saw in action last week.

Deal Davos (aka bilateral Davos)

You come to Davos to meet with a handful of specific people who are also there at the same time. Your time is dedicated to a moderate room in some Davos hotel, as your team runs a steady stream of key customers, suppliers and potential partners through. Davos as nexus for minimizing global travel.

Political Davos

You see Davos as a place to get exposed to leading politicians from around the world, where you can hear Tony Blair, Angela Merkel and King Abdallah of Jordan and a hot of others. A place where American politicians get exposed to world opinion and protest, not s…

Malaysia Party

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Every year there's a big party at the WEF on the last night (Saturday). Countries vie to sponsor the main event, throwing a big show and serving up their best food. Of course, the reason is economic development. After the opening show, we were treated to a short video extolling the virtues of investing in Malaysia. Knowing their audience it prominently featured a beautiful golf course (and of course beautiful Malaysian women). I was surprised how attentive the audience was to this commercial. Willing participants in a transaction of an evening of entertainment for a four minute video.

The Malaysians had brought a dance troupe, and it was fun. It had more of a feeling of a traditional cultural experience than last year's India party (which was Bollywood to the max). After singing some Malaysian songs, the four top singers switched to popular (American) music. Lots of Motown. And of course, we were dancing up a storm. There was also two other venues for music: one was …

Saturday in Davos means protesters

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Over the five years I've attended the WEF, the level of protesting has gone way down. I like to think that inviting social entrepreneurs and other representatives of wider society has played a role in this. Of course, the issues are different and the U.S. presence seems lower.


I did run into a nice protester on the street. Uli was protesting against the Swiss banks taking five times more money in from the developing world than it puts back out. His direct concern was about corrupt elites that stash their ill-gotten gains in Switzerland. He was advocating for legal changes that would allow more transparency in such cases and permit countries to recover looted assets. We had quite a pleasant chat.

Of course, not all of the interactions were pleasant. One night after a party, one of my fellow social entrepreneurs got hit in the head by a snowball thrown by some punks shouting slogans. However, my buddy felt it was just drunk kids acting up rather than a political act!

Social entrepreneurs at Davos

People are often surprised when I tell them how social entrepreneurs are well received at Davos. We're full participants in panels, including being speakers. I think the reason for this integration is the strong support of the WEF's founder, Prof. Klaus Schwab, for the regard of social entrepreneurs.

One great example of this was a major reception held last night with the following hosts: Marc Benioff (CEO of Salesforce.com), Prof. & Mrs. Schwab, Michael Dell, Peter Gabriel (rockstar and founder of Witness), Alan Hassenfeld (Hasbro) and Marilyn Carlson Nelson (Carlson Travel). The reception was held in honor of social entrepreneurs and marking the release of a new book edited by Marc Benioff entitled The Business of Changing the World, which is a compendium of essays about business people and their engagement with the social sector. I had some great conversations with people explaining what Benetech does.

Talking to other Social Entrepreneurs

At least half of the highpo…

The Kinds of Things You can Do at the WEF Davos

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Davos is more than eating, drinking, and paneling (speeches). Significant numbers of other activities are here, and they are often unusual.

Cool cars

Every year Audi offers advanced driving courses. This year, BMW has a significant presence with its hydrogen-powered 700 series sedan. There are a handful driving around, as well as display units. Outside my hotel there is one of these, up on top of the mountain. You can ask for the chance to drive one, too!


Dialogue in the Dark

Andreas Heinecke is a social entrepreneur that I met over twelve years ago. He runs an experiential exhibition where you have the chance to spend a couple of hours doing everyday tasks in complete darkness, with blind people as your guides. It's obviously not the same thing as being blind, but it does prompt some reassessment of disability and ability, and for many people it's a chance to lose some of their fears about the dark (and maybe even blindness!).

Know Your Numbers

PwC runs a wellness test opp…

Internet Governance

I attended the Internet governance panel this morning (lest you think that Davos is all play and no work). Fascinating panel: Vint Cerf (Google), Michael Dell(), John Markoff (New York Times), Hamadoun Toure (ITU), Jonathan Zittrain (Oxford) and moderated by Paul Saffo (Institute for the Future). Just a few snapshots:

John Markoff did an effective job of telling us how bad things are. Botnets (infected PCs under the control of bad guys) represent over 10% of the PCs connected to the Internet. Microsoft Vista illegal copies are already for sale in China, in spite of Microsoft's efforts. According to Microsoft, over a third of illegal copies of their OSs come with trojan infections pre-installed. He noted that Microsoft has spent tremendous amounts of effort in Vista protecting premium content. By extension, wondered what things would be like if Microsoft had spent as much efforts on protecting your private information. His bottom line:
It's as bad as you could possibly i…

Davos Flavor

I hope to share a little of the flavor of Davos as we get into what's going on. Davos is a little mountain town in a valley with ski slopes on both sides. There are basically two main drags around the town, an upper one and a lower one, that meet at the two ends of town and make a long winding oval. City buses and shuttle minivans circle around the town, mainly running around the racetrack (which is one-way in several areas). The Congress Center is in the middle, and that's where the big events happen. But many other events are scattered around the hotels of Davos, and it can take 25 or 30 minutes to walk between the most far flung ones.

Last night I went to the Blogger's nightcap at a hotel at the eastern end of Davos. I came out after midnight and found that there were no buses or shuttles running anymore, so I just walked back to my hotel's funicular. That's not a term I use frequently! It's a train that takes you from town level up 1000 feet to the…

Schwab Social Entrepreneurs Summit 2007

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We're wrapping up an intense couple of days here in Zurich, and I take the spectacular train to Davos this afternoon. The event here in Zurich is the Schwab Social Entrepreneur Summit, where roughly a hundred social entrepreneurs get together with global leaders to advance the movement.

Sunday was a day of content aimed just at the social entrepreneurs. We discussed leadership, recruiting and succession, among other topics. This content has been driven by requests from the SEs themselves, looking for help in developing their leadership style and their organizations. Many of the SEs are senior, having been leading their organizations for longer than a decade, and many longer than that. Succession issues: how do we build an organization that will outlive our involvement, and how to approach recruiting a successor to the founder, was a session that I moderated. My panelists were Jeroo Billimoria, a serial social entrepreneur from India who founded Child Helpline in India and to…

World Economic Forum - Davos 2007

It's that time of year when social entrepreneurs get to hang out and carouse with the world's leaders. I'm en route to Switzerland for two conferences (or, a pre-conference and a conference).

This is where many of the key global players from the social entrepreneurship field get together, under the auspices of Klaus and Hilde Schwab. The first event is the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur Summit. Klaus is the founder and head of the WEF. And, later in the week I move to Davos for the World Economic Forum - Annual Meeting 2007.

I very much enjoy blogging from Switzerland, and sharing my experiences. I feel it's a privilege to attend, and appreciate the enthusiastic engagement social entrepreneurs receive from the most senior corporate and government leaders. The leaders who take a week out to attend Davos are very interested in global issues, both as these issues impact their business but also their families and the world.

This will be my fifth Davos in a r…

Ben Rosen and the Poool commuting technology

I just had breakfast with Ben Rosen, founding partner of the Sevin Rosen venture capital firm and now retired. Ben's firm was the lead investor in my first startup 25 years ago. As a matter of fact, Steve Dow, who was the associate who found us way back then, is still an active partner with Sevin Rosen and is one of Benetech's advisors. Ben is also on the board of Caltech, which is my alma mater.

I wasn't surprised to find that Ben has a great idea for a technology social enterprise, and it was fun to talk about it. Ben's been thinking about global warming issues for quite a while, and came up with an idea that could be implemented quickly and make a major impact on pollution and congestion. The concept is improved ride sharing technology for commuters to make carpooling more practical. Ben grabbed my attention with the following quote about the problem:

Traffic is worse than it's ever been...
but better than it will ever be.


More people and more cars in the U.S…

Warning: Benetech does not make grants to individuals

Bogus "Grant Letters"

If someone contacts you purporting to be from Benetech (or Grant Approval, Inc., or anyplace else) and making an unsolicited grant to you: this indeed is too good to be true. Apparently some people have received fake checks purporting to be from Benetech and requesting money in exchange for "taxes." These checks (to you) will bounce, and are not from us. And, the fraudsters don't want you to send checks to our main (and only) office here at 480 California Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306 USA. Any other address is a scam... Plus, we don't make grants to individuals.

This is fraud. And, it's not from the real Benetech. Real nonprofits don't operate this way. This is another variation on the scams that have been around for many years.

Of course, real checks sent to our real address marked as donations are welcome. But, call us first, so we know that's what you really want to do!!

President's Update

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Here's my latest President's Update.

Benetech's momentum continues with some fantastic news. I was awarded one of the 2006 MacArthur Fellowships. Our biggest challenge now is finding the right people to join our team. If you know some great folks (especially techies) who want a job that embodies their values as well as paying a competitive wage, please send them my way!
Highlights of this Letter:

* The MacA (!)
* Recruiting technical talent
* Selected Project Updates
o Route 66 Literacy demosite launches
o Bookshare.org is going international
o Guatemalan secret police archives

The MacA

Getting an award like the MacArthur Fellowship is pretty humbling, especially one that embodies the built-in challenge that justifies the confidence shown by the awards panel. These awards are based not so much on past achievements, as an expectation that you will do something exciting in the future. Of course, the MacArthur people make a big deal out …