The ‘Other Davos’ where hu­man re­silience is cel­e­brated

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

IHAVE just re­turned from Davos, and one may ask why one would leave a beau­ti­ful African sum­mer to travel to a Swiss Alpine re­sort where the tem­per­a­ture plunges be­low -15ºC. I have said be­fore that Europe in win­ter is only good for ski­ing.

But the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum (WEF) which took place in Klosters, Davos, be­tween Jan­uary 17 and 20, is in­creas­ingly im­por­tant, not only for eco­nomic growth, but for the wel­fare of peo­ple on many lev­els, from ed­u­ca­tion to health and mind­ful­ness.

This year’s theme was “Re­spon­sive and Re­spon­si­ble Lead­er­ship”, and now more than ever this is what the world needs: lead­ers in their fields who are re­spon­si­ble, and who bear in mind that their ac­tions af­fect bil­lions of peo­ple.

But there is the “other Davos” that is rarely spo­ken about; where a hand­ful of peo­ple at­tend in­vi­tee-only events. There dis­cus­sions re­volve around how tech­nol­ogy is har­nessed to save lives; they high­light is­sues such as hu­man traf­fick­ing and pro­vide a glimpse into the hor­rific con­di­tions that refugees face ev­ery day.

It is also a space where the African agenda can be pushed, and while at times it seemed like an in­sur­mount­able task, the con­ti­nent is slowly start­ing to feel the pos­i­tive ef­fects of lob­by­ing.

Last week I was ap­pointed to the Ste­ward­ship Board of the WEF: “Shap­ing the Fu­ture of In­for­ma­tion and En­ter­tain­ment Sys­tem Ini­tia­tive”. It is here that the African agenda can be pushed even harder to en­sure that Africa ben­e­fits from the in­for­ma­tion and tech­nol­ogy rev­o­lu­tion.

At the Fo­rum Ad­vis­ers’ Board din­ner, the many ex­am­ples of how com­pa­nies are pos­i­tively im­pact­ing on the fu­ture in­di­cates a strong hope that hu­mankind is able to ad­dress the many chal­lenges fac­ing us to­day and in the fu­ture.

How­ever, the WEF has many crit­ics – that it is where the world’s elite meet, and de­trac­tors ques­tion how rel­e­vant the fo­rum is in a world where pop­ulism is gain­ing ground.

The peo­ple who have made this ob­ser­va­tion are half cor­rect. Firstly it is elit­ist; you can’t get away from that. It is the busi­nesses elite, the top 1 000 in the world. But it is also the gov­ern­ment, multi-lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions, aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, civil so­ci­ety group­ings (such as Ox­fam, Green­peace), tech pi­o­neers, so­cial en­trepreneurs, global shapers and young global lead­ers.

It is an elite in the sense that the del­e­gates in­vited to at­tend are based on ex­cel­lence in their ar­eas of ex­per­tise, be it busi­ness or other fields of en­deav­our.

Last year the dis­cus­sion re­volved around the fourth in­dus­trial rev­o­lu­tion, where is­sues like the im­pact of ro­bot­ics, the in­ter­net of things, gene splic­ing and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence took cen­tre stage.

The no­tion that peo­ple go to Davos to be seen and that they walk away with­out mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion, or see­ing a change in them­selves, doesn’t work.

Davos is a place for net­work­ing, hear­ing what peo­ple have to say and meet­ing ex­perts. Panel­lists come from a cross-sec­tion of so­ci­ety and part­ner­ships are born.

This year, for the first time, the Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping was there, a flag-bearer for glob­al­i­sa­tion, at a time when the US is re­treat­ing into pro­tec­tion­ism. China sees the world grow­ing glob­ally and the im­por­tance of be­ing part of a world-wide move­ment of peo­ple and re­sources.

Even though there has been global eco­nomic growth, we can­not ig­nore the crit­i­cism. While liv­ing stan­dards have im­proved for many, the wealth gap has widened and jobs have be­come re­dun­dant, largely due to the im­pact of tech­nol­ogy and glob­al­i­sa­tion.

That is why peo­ple like Don­ald Trump get elected. They say what peo­ple want to hear, whether their prom­ises are go­ing to man­i­fest or not. This is an­other rea­son why Davos is im­por­tant, to make sure that the world does not plunge into a so­cio-eco­nomic-po­lit­i­cal abyss. One of the WEF’s roles in this cru­cial time is to en­sure more peo­ple are lifted out of poverty, that gains are made in ed­u­ca­tion, the no­tion of ed­u­ca­tion is changed ir­re­vo­ca­bly, that we pay heed to sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment and cli­mate change. But nei­ther busi­ness nor gov­ern­ment can do this alone.

Davos is what you get out of it. My in­ter­ests are in the well-be­ing of peo­ple and how we can make the world a bet­ter place. When I am at Davos or other WEF meet­ings, I look for part­ner­ships in all spheres. Part­ner­ships that will ben­e­fit the con­ti­nent, my coun­try and its peo­ple.

Part­ner­ships worth ex­plor­ing could be, as an ex­am­ple, with Colom­bian singer Shakira and Amer­i­can ac­tor For­est Whi­taker and the pur­pose-driven group Black Eyed Peas. The for­mer two were recog­nised for their ef­forts to im­prove the lives of young peo­ple through con­flict res­o­lu­tion and ear­ly­child­hood ed­u­ca­tion. It is well-known that African youth are the most marginalised in the world.

Shakira and Whi­taker are do­ing good in terms of phi­lan­thropy through their re­spec­tive foun­da­tions. I had the op­por­tu­nity to en­gage for the third con­sec­u­tive year with Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and this year he brought his band mem­bers along.

The band mem­bers told their story of how they emerged as mi­grants from dif­fer­ent parts of the world and from the ghet­toes of the US, how they had to over­come many chal­lenges, both per­sonal (can­cer, in the case of Taboo) and so­ci­etal. In­stead of cel­e­brat­ing their suc­cess, they are com­mit­ted to ed­u­ca­tion for un­der­priv­i­leged groups, es­pe­cially in the Philip­pines. Their ses­sion at Davos on “Where is the Love?” was an op­por­tu­nity to lis­ten to sto­ries of hope, such as that of a no­madic woman from Chad, Hin­dou Ou­marou Ibrahim, co-or­di­na­tor of the As­so­ci­a­tion for Indige­nous Women and Peo­ples of Chad. Ibrahim could stand on a world stage, talk­ing about how she and her mother were os­tracised for re­fus­ing that she be a child bride, her fight for ed­u­ca­tion and how she learnt English.

Her story and fight for rights for sur­vival brought many a par­tic­i­pant in this WEF ses­sion to tears.

Meet­ing peo­ple like her and Will.i.am in my “Other Davos” ex­pe­ri­ence gives me hope that we can keep chang­ing lives, give hope to many and walk bravely into the fu­ture. It is in­deed a story of hope, when an indige­nous woman from Chad can stand on a world stage and ad­dress this global au­di­ence.

While there are a num­ber of meet­ings, dis­cus­sion fo­rums, events and net­work­ing ses­sions, there are also in­vite-only events. It was at these events where tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tions were dis­cussed and how they could be used for the bet­ter­ment of hu­mankind, and how mind­ful story-telling is bring­ing change to the mind-sets of many peo­ple.

Or­bital In­sight de­vel­oped satel­lites so pow­er­ful that it honed in on a ship used to traf­fic hun­dreds of women in In­done­sia’s wa­ters. The women were freed and the crew ar­rested. The tech­nol­ogy was also used to pin­point where over­fish­ing was hap­pen­ing and, im­por­tantly, to map cli­mate change.

It is this kind of in­no­va­tion and tech­nol­ogy that will guide us into the fu­ture, and this is what the Fourth In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion can do.

While many are hes­i­tant about that rev­o­lu­tion, there are tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances like HealthTap, de­vel­oped by Ron Gut­man. Us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence also gives mil­lions of peo­ple ac­cess to cred­i­ble health in­for­ma­tion.

Us­ing tech­nol­ogy for bet­ter­ment of hu­man kind

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