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Day 1 at Davos: Girls, Economies and Green Innovation

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One of my favorite sessions every WEF conference so far has been the very first. Yesterday's was an update on the global economy moderated by Michael Elliott of Time International. He kicked off the session with stimulating questions and brought out the best in a panel of great economic thinkers.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, who was outstanding on the panel in 2009, was missing this year. This left an all-male panel -- disappointing. Next year, I hope the WEF will find at least one female expert on the economy. We know they're out there.

Nevertheless, the session was terrific. The panel overall was optimistic about the economic outlook with some caveats and cautions. The message was loud and clear: the psychology of returning to business as usual is dangerous.

Nouriel Roubini, one of the only economists to actually predict the financial crisis, was fiery as always and emphasized that in this "New Normal"--the title of the session--emerging economies shouldn't imitate the mistakes of industrialized economies. David Rubenstein, of the Carlyle Group, clarified that "emerging economies" term is no longer accurate. In fact, Rubenstein said many economies have already "emerged" and all economies, with the exception of a small few like the U.S. and Japan, should be considered "developing." Interesting thought.

Arif Naqvi, founder and Group CEO of Abraaj Capital, a Dubai-based investment firm, introduced an interesting twist to the discussion. He pointed out that economists only look at numbers and emphasized that, today, we need to pay particular attention to sentiment. Raghuram Rajan, a finance professor at University of Chicago's business school, added that if the bellwether of the past was the American woman in Utah, today's bellwether is the Chinese worker.

Arif mentioned two points during the session that were closest to the importance of investing in girls:
• The youth "bulge" needs to be considered when thinking about growth trajectories combined with the dynamics of the ultra rich and poor. (For example, in India 25% of the population is under age 15), and
• Equitable growth is fundamental for all countries.

We know girls are central to that equation. I'll never get tired of saying it: Girls are the world's greatest untapped resource for economic growth and prosperity; they can accelerate economies when empowered, and given the chance.

But, back to the session. Raghuram Rajan countered much of the economic-centered discussion to point out that the biggest risk we face in today's world is political instability rather than economic instability. Again, the data tells the story. The places where girls and women have the greatest opportunity to participate are where political stability is greatest. Just look at nations like Ghana and Chile. Education contributes to democratization and promotes peace and stability in countries. And investing in girls' education, and in their participation in a country's economy and society, is critical to political and economic stability.

Another exciting part of the first day at WEF was the launch of GreenXchange, a Web-based marketplace that allows companies working on innovation in sustainability to safely and legally share patented research and information (intellectual property). Nike and nine other organizations have joined forces to start GreenXchange, or GX, and we're fired up about moving green innovation forward.

What's clear from yesterday's "New Normal" session, the exciting launch of GreenXchange, and our continued work with girls is that we need to continue to get the message out that girls are central to economic growth in every sector. The real and equitable participation of girls and women in a country's economy is the silver bullet to its success. That would go a long way to achieving growth and stability.

Check back tomorrow for more on the ground from Davos.

For more information on GreenXchange, go to: http://greenxchange.force.com.