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.
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.