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.
Several themes cut across these events. One was the tension between firms and funds operating on a "double bottom line" of social as well as economic value versus those simply seeing a profit to be made in large, untapped markets. Strikingly, a representative of Developing World Markets, which describes itself as "an asset manager and investment bank dedicated to making socially positive investments" to "promote sustainable economic and social investment on a global scale," said he had $1 billion under management, which is real money by anyone's count. But other ventures still need a lot of philanthropic funding to survive; still others will only engage if the traditional single bottom line adds up. A second theme was a shift from a "culture of owning and earning to a culture of feeling and belonging," suggesting that many people are willing to pay for and invest in the value of connection itself and the sense of purpose and collective enterprise it provides (although plenty of people, rich and poor, are still keenly interested in owning and earning). Third, even very poor people will only pay for technology if it works reliably and is tailored to their needs. The top concern of consumers of mobile money transfer and banking services, for instance, is not price but security of transactions. If security can't be guaranteed, they will stick with trusted methods. Fourth, all of this is hard. For every example that works, a myriad more do not, and the devil is still in the details.