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Last Updated: Monday, 26 January, 2004, 09:04 GMT
What Peter Gabriel gets out of Davos

By Tim Weber
BBC News Online business editor in Davos

Peter Gabriel
Having a famous founder can help open doors
Davos is not just about business people. But what can the World Economic Forum offer campaigners and not-for-profit entrepreneurs?

Being a legendary rock star tends to make things a tad easier. It helps to open doors and gives you access to the media.

So if you are a human rights organisation like Witness, it obviously helps to have been founded by Peter Gabriel - and be taken along to an event like the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Witness equips activists with cameras and training, so that they can document human rights abuses.

The resulting films are having an impact, says Gillian Caldwell, who runs the organisation.

Instant credibility

When US officials saw a video documenting the impact of a gas project in the Peruvian rain forest on the environment and the indigenous people, they rejected an application to finance the deal.

In the Philippines, President Gloria Arroyo ordered the setting up of a national crime office after seeing a film documenting extra-judicial killings.

During the past 10 years Witness has supported more than 300 organisations and activists.

To grow, the organisation needs money, and to gain success and raise funds it needs to have a high profile within the big business community.

So why Davos?

The foundation set up for me meetings with the bosses of two companies that I have been chasing for two or three years
,"James Fruchterman, Benetech Initiative
"Because it's here that we get immediate access to all the top people," says Ms Caldwell.

She lifts her WEF badge and says: "This badge gives me legitimacy. Outside Davos, if I go up to a chief executive, chances are I will be ignored. Here with this badge I have instant credibility."

And Peter Gabriel adds: "During the past few days here, we've been able to do as much hustling for our cause as we probably will be able to achieve during the rest of the year."

But I'm not a rock star...

Not everybody has Peter Gabriel at his side - or the compelling videos to show to executives and politicians.

Paul Rice is a happy man regardless.

He is not a campaigner but a "social entrepreneur", running a not-for-profit business.

California-based Transfair certifies "fair trade" imports for the US market.

Tea and coffee are already well-established fair trade products - selling through outlets like Starbucks. Last week he launched the first fair trade bananas sold the US.

But unlike in Europe, "we can't campaign for fair trade products, we must sell on quality," he says.

His selling point is that products bought directly from small farmers and co-operatives are of a higher quality, while the fair trade aspect gives consumers an added warm feeling of having helped poor people in developing countries.

So what did Mr Rice get out of Davos?

"Well, I wanted to meet other social entrepreneurs, to find out how they are doing things."

Promoting fair trade at Davos is not 'bananas', says Transfair
But his biggest catch of the week was a meeting with Cyrus Friedheim Jr, who happens to be the boss of banana giant Chiquita.

"He was really positive, we had a great meeting - and we will meet [this] week to discuss how Chiquita can get involved in fair trade bananas," says a very happy Mr Rice.

A helping hand

Social entrepreneurs like Paul Rice are getting a helping hand from the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, set up five years ago by Davos founder Klaus Schwab and his wife Hilde.

This year just over 50 entrepreneurs got the sought-after entry badge to the World Economic Forum, and at least for them it is paying off.

"The foundation set up for me meetings with the bosses of two companies that I have been chasing for two or three years," says James Fruchterman, who runs the Benetech Initiative in Silicon Valley.

His company provides disabled people with online access to Braille and talking books.

Another project is monitoring and documentation software used by human rights organisations around the world.

Here business leaders don't have the layers of staff that normally surround them, they can be approached directly
Gillian Caldwell, Witness
All this requires a lot of hardware, and firms like Hewlett-Packard and Intel have been chipping in.

Now Mr Fruchterman can hope for extra help.

"The foundation got me places on a couple of discussion panels at the forum," he says.

The result - after one of his presentations he was approached by William Coleman, founder of leading e-business company BEA Systems with an offer of help, reports a beaming Mr Fruchterman.

Focus or fig leaf?

But only about 150 of the more than 2,000 Davos participants fall in the broader category of social activists.

So are they the focus of Davos or used by companies as fig leafs to demonstrate corporate social responsibility?

Walking through the corridors of the Davos congress centre, it is obvious that business is at the heart of Davos.

But the chosen few activists who are allowed to join have a unique opportunity.

"Here business leaders don't have the layers of staff that normally surround them, they can be approached directly," says Gillian Caldwell of Witness.

"And when you talk to them, they can be really open to what you say."


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