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Last Updated: Monday, 24 January, 2005, 18:12 GMT
Davos diary: This is not about money

By Jim Fruchterman
President, The Benetech Initiative

I'm leaving sunny California for snowy Davos in a few hours.

Powerful people are approachable and seem much more human than when they are at the helm of their organisation

This will be my third trip to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting (WEF), and each time it becomes less intimidating!

My role is more than simply representing my non-profit organisation, Benetech.

I am attending as a social entrepreneur and will need to evangelise for our movement.

This is not about raising money

Professor Schwab, the founder and chair of the WEF, has chosen to focus his philanthropic foundation on promoting social entrepreneurship.

The fit with the business executives at the core of the Forum is solid.

The Davos conference centre ©World Economic Forum
"Davos is about learning new things..."

Social entrepreneurs strongly believe in treating our constituents more like customers rather than as recipients of charity.

We want to ensure that the disadvantaged communities of this world get the tools they need to help themselves, whether it is clean water, affordable medicine, literacy, education or micro-credit.

People in the non-profit sector frequently ask me about what Davos is like, and whether I have raised a lot of money by attending.

My response is that is not why the social entrepreneurs value their attendance at the WEF.

If I spent my time in Davos badgering the wealthy for money, I would not be invited back and I would not have made progress for the social sector.

Leaving the battleship behind

Davos is about the exchange of ideas among individuals, about learning new things and discussing challenging problems that affect society as a whole, not just the business sector.

Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia  ©World Economic Forum
"The man next to you could be a Grand Mufti..."

One of the charming aspects of the WEF is that everyone leaves their institution behind when they come to this small mountain village.

My personal image is of organisational captains commanding giant aircraft carriers and battleships full of people in their corporations, government ministries or large international charities.

To attend Davos is to shed that corporate skin, the entourages and (most of) the aspects of power. I can imagine the Swiss security guards saying politely to attendees, "I'm terribly sorry, but you need to leave that battleship in the coat check."

The fellow on the Davos city bus next to you could be the chief executive of a major tech company, the minister of education of a large country or the grand mufti of some Muslim country.

In that atmosphere, powerful people are approachable and seem much more human than when they are at the helm of their organisation.

Passionate people

At Davos we are discussing the big issues that will affect all of our children and grandchildren.

My task at Davos isn't to single-handedly save the world

People are passionately engaged in real discourse rather than being required to stay on message.

I have been surprised about the enthusiasm we social entrepreneurs receive when we chat one on one with other Davos attendees.

What I am expecting to get out of Davos is the opportunity to talk about society's problems with people who know a great deal about these issues and want to see progress made.

Whether it is talking about building a global library accessible to everybody, humanitarian landmine removal or human rights, I expect to have productive conversations that move these social causes forward.

I have learned to be fully open to serendipity: that fellow on the bus could have some creative ideas about a new way to help the five billion people on the bottom of global society's pyramid.

My task at Davos isn't to single-handedly save the world, but to be a catalyst to encourage more people to think about humanity's larger needs, and either to become social entrepreneurs themselves or to actively engage in supporting the social entrepreneurs who have dedicated themselves to making a real impact!

Benetech is a non-profit venture that combines technology and social entrepreneurship to help disadvantaged communities across the world.

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