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Cameron Sinclair

Cameron Sinclair

Posted January 29, 2009 | 01:44 AM (EST)

Davos: Looking Beyond the Obvious to See the Future


This is my first Davos attending as one of the Young Global Leaders. Part of our role here are to be the agitators and challengers of the status quo but in a year when 'all bets are off' where are the challenges? The day before the forum around one hundred or so YGLs met to discuss the financial crisis, consequences and the possible road(s) ahead. Within hours there was a feeling that, although hard, an open, holistic and far more transparent system of governance could lead the way. With a number of folks in the room experiencing growth, including my organization Architecture for Humanity, most of us felt that a few green shoots are emerging from the out of the financial frost. Too bad no one told the bankers or the media.

If you are following the conference via webcast, media blog and even twitter you'd be under the impression that the world is still trying to do an autopsy of this crisis. Looking beyond the main stage speakers you begin to see that instead of plastic surgeon economic advisers we are in need of those who have been working in emergency room situations. Turkey, Nigeria, South Africa and Japanese panelists seem to offer more optimistic prescriptions. When you've been in the trenches and at times ridiculed by the global economic pundits - you end up with a thicker skin than those in Wall Street. Of course here the big debate is the almost taboo N word.. nationalization and a decoupling of our economies.

What has been absent, so far, is the attention toward the unintended consequences of the financial crisis. With an interconnected society that is rapidly progressing the crisis has turned tickle down poverty into a flood. Having first hand knowledge of weavers in Cambodia turning to human trafficking within weeks of the stagnation of the market I was stunned when an attendee said 'it's not like the poor have felt this. They didn't own stocks nor had the wealth to lose'. I had to restrain myself from boffing the guy as the wolves of reason pounced on his oddly formed theory. 'Humanitarian hits banker at Davos' would have been an interesting storyline.

For us in the social sector we are in an interesting bind. Previous years charitable organizations were seen as a sweet addition for attendees but suddenly we're a hot ticket item as the global stimulus is focused on social and environmental improvements. While the Putin vs. Dell 'smackdown' got the twitter crew in fits it was China's premier Wen Jiabao who was the first world leader to readdressed the balance and to commit a sizable amount of China's GDP on social issues. Housing, post disaster recovery, tax cuts and higher welfare support and social security came in thick and fast. Then as if he was channeling Hillary he went into universal health care and education reform. As a newbie I perhaps naively took the speech as highly encouraging especially as he was the first world leader here to bring up the need to tackle environmental issues and sustainable development. Is this the start of a green-tech arms race?

If yesterday was about admitting and addressing the illness, today and tomorrow will hopefully be about prescribing a direction for recovery [not a short-term placebo]. Later today I will be launching a global challenge, supported by Orient Global, to improve the design and construction of classrooms around the world. In a theme that I hope will resonate here in Davos we are asking the real experts, in this case K-12 students, teachers and design professionals, to work openly and collaboratively to find local and sustainable solutions to a global issue. Instead of talking about the solutions this challenge rewards the authors $5,000 and the winning school (US or international) $50,000 to help create safer, healthier, sustainable and more creative learning environments for the future leaders and stewards of this fragile planet.

Learn more on the challenge here and for much shorter commentary follow my tweets.

Day One personal highlights

Best moment: (draw)
1. Meeting with the CEO of Habitat for Humanity and discussing ways for us to partner on green rehabs of foreclosed properties to create equity and affordable housing solutions.

2. Meeting with two multinational companies and talking about implementing open source strategies in their business including using Creative Commons as a way to give up constrictive IP in order to allow for social, humanitarian and policy change. Open Source for Good!

Worst moment:
Accidentally elbowing Kofi Annan while trying go get my 5th coffee.

Weirdest moment: (draw)
1. Getting told off by the BBC for out-tweeting them

2. showing a senior technology reporter how to use Twitter