As I start to comb through the attendance list of the Summit, I find myself excited to see the shape of the conversations that will begin here tomorrow. Almost a thousand of the world’s smartest people have descended upon the Madinat Jumeirah Convention Centre – a modern kasbah.
I recognize many of the names on the lists of the various councils – typically they are people who I have long admired for their personal and professional achievements. I am hopeful that this gathering of some of the world’s greatest minds, attempting to digest the current state of affairs, will yield tangible results that will increase the quality of life for the masses. The mood becomes more reverent as I walk around the Global Agenda Councils’ meeting space. The words that adorn the walls are the kind that one normally talks about in a very intangible way – “Values”, “Role of Arts in Society”, “Energy Security”, etc. But the minds gathered here have the vision to actually shape the agenda of the world. The words of the 1960’s American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead permeate my mind: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.
The leaders we follow have a very real need to engage the people that are affectedby policy and practice on the ground, to help fully understand the problems that plague us all. But as the late CEO of Apple Steve Jobs said, “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” (Business Week). There is often a frustration that arrives from the intersection of these two ideals: democracy, versus the studied, experienced initiatives made by qualified academics, policy makers, and entrepreneurs.
To illustrate, politics is different from medicine in this regard. In medicine, one mostly trusts the doctor’s decision in confidence based on the doctor’s experience in the matter. On the other hand, politics, especially in policies in development, is all too often more emotive than pragmatic. Bright Simons (Global Agenda Council on Data Driven Development) recently shared on his Facebook page, “if you keep going on and on about no light, no water, heavy traffic on pot-holed roads, patchy inter-city transport, Ghana Commercial Bank banking halls, erratic LPG from TOR, etc etc but you still believe that the answer to Ghana’s problems is MORE GOVERNMENT – CONTROLLED & FUNDED SERVICES, ‘it resembles you alone’…..:-) #FindASenseOfIrony.” While his statement is more based on economic philosophy, it also echoes the sentiment that if policy isn’t really affecting those on the ground, it is up to those on-the-ground to make things happen for ourselves.
But who is the ground for Polio eradication, macroeconomic downturns, or even public works projects such as roads? To me this is what the WEF is. An organization that crosscuts bureau‘crazies’, industries, ideologies, and financial status. This achieves formidable outcomes. It gets social enterprises supported by multi-nationals, Chinese train tracks laid in Africa and Cava on the shelves of Singaporean wine stores. One of my mentors, Tony Meloto (WEF Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Philippines, 2010), as a result of his time spent at WEF meetings, has had everything from CNN wanting to do a documentary on his development model to end poverty, to Jeffrey Sachs, Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, wanting to run a forum in the Philippines with him. But such individual outcomes are the more traceable genre, while the more vague and untold story remains – what does all of this collaboration under one roof bring about, on a macro level, on the network as a whole?
In an ever-connected world, networks have grown to be more and more important. Your options to meet people, are simply greater than they were before the emergence of Facebook, LinkedIn, and etc. Now that we have so many options, our tribalism cuts into more meaningful characteristics than color. We become focused on opinions, strategies, and actions. The emerging creeds encompass topics like “Social Innovation” and “Human Rights”. Events like the WEF’s Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai, are the early adopters of this reality. They recognize that by connecting business, political, and academic minds, the world could change more quickly. Thus a tribe of the world’s do-ers was born. Let’s hope the conversation lives up to this impression.
Featured image source: Studentreporter