Envisioning a world in which personal mobile technology can connect every human being in every village in every country to the tap roots of knowledge, markets, services, and community
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during closing plenary of Clinton Global Initiative / Reuters
Last week was the last week of the UN General Assembly meeting, when all New York is gridlocked and grumpy and the foreign policy community is over-loaded with invitations to events, meals, and meetings. I shuttled back and forth on the train between New York and my classes in Princeton, but the three events I chose to attend tell us quite a bit about the trend-lines in global affairs.
On Monday night, The Atlantic co-hosted a dinner moderated by Steve Clemons on the technocratic sounding topic of "financial inclusion," which brought together a hedge fund director, heads of various NGOs focusing on women, development, and microfinance, UN officials, bankers, telecom entrepreneurs, and others. "Financial inclusion" essentially means banking the unbanked, which is most of the world's poor. That often starts with mobile money, which has taken off with Kenya's M-PESA (the M stands for mobile and pesa is Swahili for money, which the program allows Kenyans to send by cell phone). But once you are getting and sending your money via cell phone you can also, at least theoretically, put it into a bank account and start saving, paying on lay-away, using a credit card, buying insurance -- in short, doing all the things that those of us who are connected to the financial system at least at a retail level take for granted.
Tuesday night was a dinner sponsored by the Cherie Blair Foundation for women as part of the Clinton Global Initiative on a related subject: "Women + Technology: the 21st Century Solution." Again, it was a distinctly "tri-sector" event, including guests from the private sector, the public sector, and the civic sector; from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to the young and compelling Kiva president Premal Shah to various entrepreneurs working on a sustainable business plan to sell (and have local distributors sell) pumps, drip irrigation, solar lamps, and various other development technologies to poor families. Some of the most compelling presentations focused on how mobile phones could help women make money, improve their health and that of their family, feel more secure and independent, and even connect to fellow victims of trafficking and other abuse in a way that affirmed their dignity and common humanity.
Wednesday morning was a breakfast hosted by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which now has 72 Global Agenda Councils on issues ranging from aging to rebuilding fragile states. What was most interesting here was Klaus Schwab's articulation of his overall vision for WEF, which is of a grand multi-stakeholder coalition. WEF is of course best known for Davos, but it now also holds annual meetings in the Middle East and in China, as well as sponsoring all sorts of smaller meetings and projects in between. Time will tell as to the actual results, although as befits the world's leading business conference, Schwab is very focused on metrics. But what he sees most clearly is WEF's ability to connect the business leaders who pay to hob knob in the Swiss Alps with NGO leaders, philanthropists and foundation heads, spiritual and cultural leaders, young economic and social entrepreneurs, national and international government officials, academics, policy experts, journalists -- whoever it takes to get good ideas and implement them.