30.01.2013: THOUGHTS FROM DAVOS: Creative Resilience
OK, I’m back from Davos, drying out from the schnapps, but also trying to make sense of it all. I heard some brilliant economic forecasts (it’s going to get better, slowly) and some cogent political forecasts (it’s going to get better, slowly).
But I came back inspired by my experience and, on reflection, it is because of the profound personal stories I heard. I was honored to talk to people who are making incredible, positive contributions to the world, but with a lot less fanfare than Nouriel Roubini or Bill Gates. Here are a few:
- Jeanne Bourgault is the President of Internews. She is helping young and often very poor local people become journalists. Her company teaches them how to write, take pictures and create stories. They have 10,000 participants and her organization is creating real time news stories with a global reach.
- Check out Theaster Gates, an accomplished (wealthy) artist, whose wild art installations are in some of the most prestigious art galleries in the world. He is giving back by “placemaking”; buying derelict homes in urban areas like Detroit and creating fantastic spaces where artists, chefs, musicians, and others provide education and a place to go for local at-risk populations.
- Caroline Watson is the founder of Hua Dan in China. The extraordinary urbanization underway has come with serious issues for rural women moving to the cities. Caroline created a theatre program where Chinese women act out and talk about the issues, and give advice. A valuable and scalable social program, run by local women.
- And my favorite: Heather Fleming, a young Navaho woman who was concerned with the many issues facing the people on her reservation. She got a degree in engineering and created a company called Catapult. It is a design firm that brings basic, but beautiful, innovation to people in need. Transportation systems for the Navaho. Human powered water pumps in Kenya. Solar powered card terminals in Africa!
At times abundance breeds creativity. But it is quite inspiring to see scarcity breed creativity. These young leaders are fulfilling the Davos objective to make the world a better place, and they are doing it through entrepreneurship and creativity. There is much we can learn, and room for MasterCard to lead.
24.01.2013: THOUGHTS FROM DAVOS DAY 2
Another day in Davos and I’m consistently impressed by the quality of the ideas being generated. The one keynote I caught was David Cameron talking about a more open and flexible Europe, but also the critical need for the G8 to attack world hunger.
Financial inclusion and the power of electronic commerce continue to be very visible topics. And everywhere people are talking about the critical need for partnerships: between businesses, governments and NGO’s.
Davos has always been great for meeting with our many strategic partners. The banks have a somewhat lower profile than in past years but are certainly well represented, and I’ve been able to meet a number of our customers.
I’ve also met with folks we traditionally support through corporate philanthropy, such as Mercy Corps and NFTE, who want to move to stronger commercial partnerships, leveraging our platforms and products to assist people in need. This shared value model is one we are already pursuing with organizations like Planet Finance and the World Food Programme where MasterCard really can do well while also doing good.
The highlight was the World Food Programme’s dinner. I sat with the Secretary General of the United Nations, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands and the Minister of Finance for Lebanon, and was in such good company because of the highly valued work we are doing with WFP, including our pilot of “digital food” for the refugees from the conflict in Syria.
Across town, MasterCard Chairman Rick Haythornthwaite was leading a WEF dinner discussion with senior leaders from government, banking, telecommunications and academia on Financial Inclusion. There he explored the question of how to build trust in the system and help the 2.5 billion adults who lack access to mainstream financial services.
We have made tremendous progress, but we still have a long way to go…
23.01.2013: THOUGHTS FROM DAVOS DAY 1
Hello from Switzerland. The World Economic Forum really got going today. Lots of energy as thousands of attendees jammed the town’s hotels and the main conference center.
There was controversy on many topics but there was a consistent theme arguing for businesses and governments to work together to improve the world.
Many sessions echoed MasterCard’s proposition for a World Beyond Cash. There is growing consensus that electronic commerce will provide a huge benefit for the billions of people around the world currently excluded from formal financial services. Here are a few of the comments that I heard today:
- The Prime Minister of Peru said he just passed a new law mandating electronic commerce. 65% of Peruvians have no access to financial services and his objective is to change that fact over the next 5 years.
- The Minister of Finance from Colombia suggested that we need new forms of electronic acceptance, primarily mobile, and that we need to reduce transaction costs for small businesses. He said he needs to begin by getting rid of Colombia’s transaction tax (approximately 1%).
- The budget chief from the Philippines said his country is dedicated to the “digitization of government,” including mobile banking, a national payroll system, and easy remittances for the 11 million Philippinos living outside the country. He noted that electronic commerce will aid transparency, reduce government cost and help them identify “ghost pensioners.”
- A government official (who I won’t identify) told me that he is constantly fighting with parts of his own government that run “parallel systems”. He said old cash-based government disbursements have led to corruption over the years, and at times resistance to change.
- The CEO of our partner Mercy Corps told an audience that electronic commerce creates financial inclusion, but more importantly it creates dignity and empowerment for individuals.
I have to say that comments like these confirmed for me the high relevance of our drive for a world beyond cash.
But there was much controversy at times today. One key lightning rod was the conversation around the future of Europe. David Cameron made a speech today (not at Davos) suggesting that Britons will vote on whether to stay in the EU. Many leaders at Davos responded, not least of all the Italian PM, Mario Monti, who suggested the people of the UK would definitely vote to stay in. Many financial CEO’s ( Lloyd’s Ins, Standard Chartered, Prudential, etc) urged the UK to stay in the EU for the general long term interest of the UK and Europe.
David Cameron will address the general session at Davos tomorrow (Thurs, 24th) and it is a hot ticket.
Other comments on Europe included the IMF’s Christine Lagarde forecasting a second year of contraction, and Harvard University prof Kenneth Rogoff seeing the EU only surviving if it abandons some countries such as Greece.
All in all a great day at the WEF. But its 10:30pm here and there is more work to do…