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Last Updated: Monday, 31 January, 2005, 09:18 GMT
Davos diary: Meetings of minds

By Jim Fruchterman
President, The Benetech Initiative

Al Gore
"You look a lot like Al Gore"
My good friend from India, Joe Madiath, bumps into another man at a Davos party thrown by the Egyptians.

They say hi and shake hands. Joe exclaims: "You know something? You look a lot like Al Gore."

"Many people tell me that," was the reply. Joe continues on this vein and asks the man his name. The quiet response? "Al Gore."

The idea that a social entrepreneur serving the poorest of the poor in India might bump into a world famous politician is not a surprise here at the World Economic Forum.

It was a quintessential Davos moment that drives home the accessibility of world and corporate leaders to each other and to social entrepreneurs, religious figures, artists, and the leaders of non-governmental organisations and trade unions.

Self help

The Schwab Foundation hosted a wrap up session on Sunday with twenty of the social entrepreneurs attending the Forum.

We all felt that this had been the best Davos event in the four years that we have been invited to be part of the Forum.

Issues of poverty, socially responsible investing, human rights, education and health were an integral part of the conversation.

One joked about the nine months of follow-up work resulting from the five days at this meeting.

We also agreed that we had to work harder at delivering our core common message that disadvantaged communities globally need much more than charitable handouts, they need access to the tools to help themselves.

Instant accomplishment

My personal experience exceeded my expectations for both my organisation and the larger causes of the social entrepreneurship movement.

Klaus Schwab, founder of WEF, talks to  New York Stock Exchange chief John Thain
The photographers are never far away when the chiefs talk

One corporate chief executive offered extensive in-kind support for our digital literacy enterprises that provide the disabled access to talking books and teach reading to teenagers and adults who are not yet literate.

Union leaders talked about applying our secure human rights software to documenting the killings of labour organisers and protecting journalists.

The heads of major information technology companies invited me to attend multiple meetings to discuss the progress they had made as a group in bringing technology to students in Jordan and their desire to replicate that success elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as a major program in Brazil.

Numerous prominent journalists were intrigued by the social entrepreneurship story and asked for help setting up more coverage of the topic.

I met a technology leader who was completely excited about a new product she is launching to help both disabled children and non-disabled children together.

I was able to personally thank senior executives at organizations such as Google, IBM and Human Rights Watch for their support of our work.

And that is only part of the meetings and conversations I personally had: just imagine what the more than 50 social entrepreneurs were each able to accomplish in this short time.

Thoughtful and engaged

One of the best sessions I attended was a three hour workshop for chief executives about what a successful company would look like in 2020.

Every one of the many attendees was the chief of a major organisation, and they broke into small groups to talk about the changes they saw in business over the next 15 years.

The themes that came out of these intense discussions were very progressive, concepts such as more diverse boards of directors and management teams, an investment climate that valued social responsibility and closer relationships with civil society and communities.

I was impressed and encouraged with the thoughtfulness and engagement of the chief executives in my small group.

These experiences help the social entrepreneurs respond to other people in the social sector who question why we would be attending Davos and associating with the leaders of the "evil" business sector.

If we social entrepreneurs can be part of the Forum's efforts to make social responsibility a core and normal part of the world's leading business conference, then we are remaining true to our social missions.

We shouldn't stop holding business accountable to society, or protesting when certain businesses breach ethical, human or environmental standards.

However, if we can also engage the hearts of leaders in the economic sector, we will encourage responsible behaviour. Benetech is a non-profit venture that combines technology and social entrepreneurship to help disadvantaged communities across the world.


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