What is approximately a week long, 6,000 miles away, isolated at the peak of a 20th century mountain village, secured and locked down on all sides, 24 hours a day by the Swiss Police and military, consists of more than 1,000 global corporations and banks with combined annual revenue turnover of $10 trillion, plays hosts to 25 heads of state – at the same time, engages actively with more than 100 government ministers and cabinet members, hosts more than 150 Young Global Leaders, including the co-founders of Google, Miguel Forbes, Nat Rothschild, Queen Rania of Jordan and the Crown Prince of Norway, and 250 leading global non-government organizations, such as the one I founded and run, Operation HOPE? It is called the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and it is where I spent a memorable week earlier this year, from January 22nd through January 28th, as I have attended every year for the last three – and wouldn’t miss it for the world.
But it is not the obvious that attracts me to the World Economic Forum; the unfettered and comfortable access to everyone from Bill Gates (Gates Foundation) to John Thain (NYSE) to King Hussein (as in the “Kingdom of Jordan”). It was the feeling, the shared sense even, that we were all somehow caught up in a truly rare point in real, suspended time – all focused on something other than and greater than ourselves. When was the last time you felt that way anywhere, yet alone a conference or meeting, if you want to call Davos that. This was a week where 2,500 of the most powerful and influential leaders from government, community and the private sector, in the world, were for once, and at once, all focused on “the we and not just the me.” A week when time itself seemed to stand still and the world was kept at bay – I mean, after two international airplane flight connections, three European train connections, a bone chilling cold local village shuttle bus ride, and the passing through the gates of armed and guarded (created) borders, this is almost literally true – and you begin to really feel that working together one could really change the world. An overwhelming sense that 99.9% of the people around you actually shared your values, and wanted to find a new way forward in the problem plagued world we live in. A new way, fashioned around “doing well and doing good,” or better yet, “doing well by doing good.” Being in Davos is like sitting in the future with a full set of cards. That means leaving Davos means you feel well, almost required to actually do something worthwhile with your life, your energy, and your power.
Last year I went to Davos and found myself standing next to the president of the company I had problems meeting in the states; the NYSE. Two months after that casual conversation over hot tea in Davos, NYSE and Operation HOPE was partnering on the streets of New York, teaching financial literacy education to low-wealth children there. We are strong partners today, and a senior member of NYSE management serves on my regional board there. Or my chance meeting with World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz last year. We share the same hero, Andrew Young, and after a short, casual conversation, Walla, President Wolfowitz, myself and Ambassador Andrew Young found ourselves standing on the same stage in – ANACOSTIA, right outside of Washington, D.C., as we hosted the Anacostia Economic Summit for the poor there. Now, due to open in a couple months time, Operation HOPE and a World Bank affiliate are committed to jointly opening an office to teach financial literacy, entrepreneurship and dignity too in South Africa, in partnership with yet another Forum member and Operation HOPE partner, Citigroup.
Or picture me this year, huddling with my Forum issued PDA (which allows you to communicate with any of the 2,500 some odd leaders by wireless, closed system email), making contact one minute with the CEO of a large NYC based bank, and 20 minutes later actually sitting down with him and sharing my vision for changing the world. His too. And there goes Mitch Caplan and Arlen Gelbard, CEO and CAO respectively of E Trade, who also just partnered with me and former President Bill Clinton to open a new HOPE Center in Harlem, New York, and who just that moment hooked me up with two prominent philanthropists who speak in the billion-not-million language. And then there are the endless sessions where the leading experts in whatever topic you have ever been interested in, talk intimately and passionately with participants, from can’t see in the morning to can’t see at night. And oh, then there are the late night dinner sessions, and then the later night cap sessions, with all of it ending around 1am every morning; and then it all starts up all over again, at 7am the next morning. This place is just mind numbing -- and amazing.
I use to think, what an unlikely place to spark a movement for the poor. But this is no normal place, and this is no normal movement either. For me, I have found kindred spirits for my silver rights movement; a desire to make capitalism and free enterprise work for the poor. Here, capitalism and idealism are both used as battering rams to actually empower the poor. Here, in Davos, Switzerland, leaders are trying to not just be the Good Samaritan, picking up those in need lying injured and in need along the fabled Jericho Roads of life, these leaders are actually trying to fix the Jericho Road. To pave the Jericho Road. To place street lights and onramps of hope along the Jericho Road. To create community development, leading to homeownership, small business ownership and entrepreneurship, along the Jericho Road.
Davos is special because finally, once a year, in one place, you have the magic of private enterprise and capitalism, idealism and ownership, principled pragmatism, practical hope fueled by at some results, democracy and governmental lea dership, vision and community all coming together as partners. Partners focused on fixing the Jericho Road. Together, it can be done.
See you there, same time next year.
John Hope Bryant is a member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, associated with the World Economic Forum, and has attended the last three Annual Meetings of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland