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February 01, 2008

Perspectives on Davos

Pamela Hartigan
Managing Director, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and Adjunct Professor, Management
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This was my eighth consecutive year attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos. When I first attended in 2001, two months after joining the Schwab Foundation, I spent most of the time trying to figure out how to maneuver the labyrinth of private events, workshops, nightcaps and plenaries, as well as the thousands of extremely important people — a challenge for even the most adept networker, which I was not.

To give you an example of what I mean, that first year I found myself guiding the late Yasser Arafat to the men’s room and having a tête-à-tête with Oprah Winfrey.

Nine months later, as the Forum was gearing up for Davos 2002, September 11 changed the world. Soon thereafter, Klaus Schwab took the unprecedented and risky decision to bring the forum’s annual meeting down from the Swiss Alps to the heart of Manhattan as an expression of solidarity with the people of New York City and the United States. Not only was the entire atmosphere of the event changed, it was also the first time social entrepreneurs were included in the forum’s annual meeting.

Since then, social entrepreneurs have become a growing fixture at Davos, and business and government representatives welcome them happily and warmly. One of the most important approaches we have used is to give them speaking roles on key panels and in workshops where their issues are being discussed by other experts.

This year, we organized a session entitled “Innovations in Leadership” to explore new models of leadership that are urgently needed in an increasingly interdependent world. We heard from living legends like Muhammad Yunus, Jimmy Wales and Nicholas Negroponte. The session brought leaders in business, media and technology innovation together with social entrepreneurs to discuss the benefits and challenges of operating through networked and open systems. Such approaches eschew traditional “command and control” models in favor of a more “viral model” — emphasizing that the minds of many are far more powerful than those of a few.

So, while the mainstream media reporting from Davos has focused on the U.S. and global economies and their woes — serious issues indeed — there is an untold story. A band of Davos attendees, including some 45 social entrepreneurs, have been seizing the opportunity brought about by present chaos to advance new business models that ultimately promise to combine markets and meaning.

Comments

by Ray Horton | February 02, 2008 at 5:25 PM

Pamela Hartigan was too modest to note two other claims to fame she can add to her role at Davos. First, she's the co-author of a new book that is drawing a lot of favorable comment, The Power of Unreasonable People (the unreasonable people being a group of social entrepreneurs who think outside of the box and never say "can't be done"). Second, she'll be teaching a half course at Columbia Business School this spring titled Social Entrepreneurship: A Global Perspective.

by Wole M. Fayemi | February 04, 2008 at 6:37 AM

I felt completely IN SYMPATICO with the focus on Innovations in Leadership at the recent Davos forum, in which business, media, and technology innovators were brought together to attempt to solve, in an open forum, the challenges which face society in this "interdependent world". Several years ago, I had created such a business model (which continues to develop), which was centered around a non-profit foundation [The Motorious Foundation], whose purpose was to 1) educate consumers about environment issues as they related to the intersection of the technology and automotive industries 2) attempt to close the digital divide and bring technology to the deprived and technophobes via the automobile, and 3) to promote and teach the building of environmentally responsible products by its manufacturing partners who created products for this segment. What made the model both innovative and interesting (and viable, among other things) was that it also integrated a novel marketing mechanism rooted in a published academic model [later termed: The GREENSPEED Index], which would, via a pricing algorithm linked to production values [Overall Impact on the Envirnoment], make more (financially) attractive to consumers the purchase of environmentally friendly products and/or services. To date, I am unaware of a (sub)BRAND STRATEGY which is solely centered on being environmentally conscious (promoting social values) in a market environment (selling of products). When the two are combined on a large scale, there is a measurable impact in the good which can be brought to society. I applaud Ms. Hartigan's efforts to teach these concepts to students on a global scale, as not only industries, but markets and industries have become globally connected and interdependent.

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