Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Davos Blur

The Davos scene is nonstop: it starts with breakfast meetings at 8 am and ends typically after midnight. You rush from session to session, often jumping a shuttle from one hotel to another or back to the Congress Center. In between the meetings, there’s the powerful force of serendipity. In the hallways, you’re as likely to run into the head of an international NGO, as CEO of a Fortune 100 company, as a renowned professor as the foreign minister of a major country. And, everybody is working on something and usually is interested in several issues. Every table conversation brings a new perspective and a new idea: whether it’s new knowledge, a great contact or a new extension to the idea under discussion.

I spend time desperately trying to capture some of these insights myself, or give someone an action item (send me an email on that and I’ll do it). Each hour there’s something memorable.
James Moody at a flipchart talking about socially responsible licensingToday was an example of this. In the morning, I attended a session put on by the Young Global Leaders with six interesting proposals. James Moody of Australia’s national research organization was talking about an idea of a humanitarian license for patents that has been floated by the YGL community. Since I’ve been working on IP policy and licensing on Bookshare, I was quite interested and had ideas of how to work with companies to apply their IP to social needs.

Next, I went to the Social Entrepreneurs Corner (a space set aside for the SEs) and ended up talking in detail with Iftekhar of Waste Concern from Bangladesh about the idea they floated in the bar a couple days ago for software to help cities reduce their carbon footprint. With Iftekhar’s help, I was able to quickly get three pages of notes about the opportunity, the needs, the existing tech landscape, potential partners and funders.


I next attended a session on global biodiversity, and ended up talking to two of the three speakers afterwards about our Miradi project and about the software idea from my friends at Waste Concern. Stephen Schneider is a professor at Stanford: as often happens I end up meeting someone from across the street in another country! And, had a great chat with Achim Steiner, the ED of the UN Environmental Program.


With a few minutes to spare, I grabbed some lunch while discussing the best way to help one of the YGLs get expansion funding for her cool product that could fight cervical cancer nonsurgically. Then I plunged (late) into a session called “Discover a Hacker’s Mindset,” with Pablos Holman, which was chock-full of traditional hacking (lock-picking, credit card slurping) along with hacking the world: one on maintaining the arctic ice pack and the other on preventing hurricanes. I ran into Brian Behlendorf, one of Benetech’s board members, and he gave some very constructive feedback on the city software idea, along with pointers to a couple of people I should talk to in the eGov software space. I also got to talk to Pablos because he knew Brian, and ask about ideas that might be worth licensing for social purposes.

Musa, a young man in a wheelchair, pulling a face during his rapNext I zipped over to the Global Changemakers event, where six teenagers from around the world presented their projects to change the world, using the PechaKucha format (20 slides timed over five minutes). Prince Haakon of Norway kicked off the session, along with our moderator, Angel Cabrera, the dean of the Thunderbird Business School. My mentee, Musa, talked about his efforts to help communities in Iraq, including getting blind schools what they needed in terms of equipment (something I’m planning on helping him with), and ended with a rap. Each of these changemakers was dynamic and the crowd was excited about how to help them succeed.

Running through the hall, I ran into Kristine Pearson of the Freeplay Foundation (hand and solar powered radios for mainly Africa), and heard about her great projects. The goal of these devices is to provide educational and informational content to villages with limited resources: their player is loud enough to play for 20-40 people at one time.
She promised me a demo tomorrow and wants to help the blind with the device in addition to the her main constituency, the poor.

I did twenty minutes of email and then headed over to the social entrepreneur’s corner for a debrief with the Schwab Foundation staff, Hilde Schwab, and twenty five of my fellow social entrepreneurs. For those who had been at Davos before, it was clearly the best WEF meeting they had been part of. When I first attended, social issues were not top (or middle) of the agenda. But, the Schwab’s made the right call to bring us into the discussion ten years ago. Now, the social entrepreneur crowd are at the center of many of the big issues on the WEF agenda, especially the Global Redesign Initiative: global warming, sanitation and health, human rights, economic development and so on. The newbies were a bit stunned by Davos, and were like kids in a candy store talking about the contacts they had made that would advance their work.

Twenty-five social entrepreneurs and Schwab Foundation board and staffAnd then, we dashed off to get some fondue, dress up for the big South Africa party, and stay out ‘til 2 listening to great music and talking shop (just a little).

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