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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 January, 2005, 23:56 GMT
Davos diary: 'Enlightened self interest'

By Jim Fruchterman
President, The Benetech Initiative

The tone of this Davos strikes me as more socially oriented than the past two.

As a social entrepreneur attendee, I quite appreciate this.

On Wednesday, the World Economic Forum tried an experiment of a town-hall meeting to find out what the top issues for the attendees were.

The top three amazed me: fighting poverty, equitable globalisation and climate change.

Each of these topics received votes from the majority of the attendees.

Have I fallen into a den of liberal thinkers?

Tony Blair
Enlightened self-interest: Mr Blair sums up the mood of Davos

Tony Blair's talk (on Africa and global warming) had a quote that I think explains why: "it is based on enlightened self-interest".

He was talking about something else at the time, but it is completely applicable!

Bad for business?

The word here from many of the business leaders is that major world problems are bad for business: poverty is bad for business, the backlash against inequitable globalisation is bad for business and climate change looks like it will be terrible for business!

That is not to say that the major investment firms are likely to stop focusing solely on return, but social considerations are creeping in.

For example, I attended a social investing session on Thursday.

Steve Pagliuca of Bain Capital, the big leveraged buyout firm, talked about the fact that they are avoiding investments in fields like gambling and arms.

He went further and said that if one of their firms could invest in a business in a good neighbourhood or a bad neighbourhood, they would invest in the poor neighbourhood if the returns were the same.

Not willing to take sub-par returns, but definitely thinking about the social side.

Schmoozing

Social investing is not the only topic being bandied about.

The socially-oriented ideas are flowing around here fast and furious.

Social considerations are creeping in
Jim Fruchterman
In less than 24 hours, I have had conversations about how to set up the ideal next generation foundation (so we can make helpful suggestions to the Google founders), how to bring digital books to the blind in Egypt, job creation in Cambodia, putting an incredible Paraguayan social entrepreneur's successes into wider distribution, tough political stands with a top politician, helping dyslexic kids, advancing the civil rights of the African-American community in California and more things to boot.

Like any other conference I attend, the people-meeting part, the schmoozing, is the most important.

The programme is incredible, but its real point is to generate conversations among the attendees.

Coming from an engineering background, schmoozing is not always the easiest thing for me to do! After being here a few times, it gets much easier.

Doing deals

I understand the appeal of the conference to the average business leader well.

It is a rare opportunity to interact with peers.

The Davos conference centre ©World Economic Forum
A rare chance to brainstorm
The Schwab Foundation has done an incredible job of bringing the world's top social entrepreneurs together here in Davos.

In between sessions and meetings with corporate, political and non-profit leaders, we have a corner of the conference centre where we hang around together and trade notes about our challenges.

It is a rare chance to brainstorm on ways to advance the entire movement with strong social entrepreneurs from all over the world.

People talk about how Davos is a place where deals get done.

However, that deal could easily be between a social leader and a corporation, or between two non-profits. I hope the Forum continues to create an environment where this kind of progress can be made.

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


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