So here we are. DC10 has arrived. The weekend we have all been looking forward to. With all the hype and anticipation, one has to wonder -- will it live up to its legacy? Will the six hundred people descending on Washington, D.C. leave feeling the same overwhelming sense of commonality felt in previous years?
Now, I'm still a newbie in many ways. Last year was my first time. The legendary Summit Series Miami. Ah, the memories.
At a conference that is more like a summer camp for entrepreneurs, I have to admit I was more than a little bit skeptical. I mean, it's not as though this is a novel idea. Yea, we're gonna pull everyone together and meet and learn from each other and in the end we'll sing "Kumbaya" and circle-hug. Uh huh. Heard it.
For years, I have avoided conferences at all costs. A bunch of successful people congratulating each other on being successful and spending more time hustling one another than actually learning anything new. The whole thing seemed like a lot of talk and very little action. No thanks. I'd rather hunker down and actually do something.
You see, we run a campaign for peace in Congo. We invest in local leaders to rehabilitate their children and are working to create a global coalition for peace in our world's deadliest war. So honestly, I don't have time for pomp and circumstance, have little tolerance for self-congratulations. In the part of the world we're looking at, human beings are dying and we need change.
So, when I first received an invitation, I called up an old friend, Blake Mycoskie, and asked his advice, "Look man, you've been to these things before, is it worth my time?" Without hesitation he responded, "Going to this might be the most beneficial thing you do all year."
Coming from a guy who has Bill Clinton on speed dial, I figured I should listen up. An hour later, my flight was booked, my bag was packed and here we go. Into the abyss.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I walked up and found a group of people more likely to give me a hug than a handshake, wear flip flops as opposed to wingtips, and who wanted to hear my story more than see my investment portfolio. And well, I do nonprofit, so I'm glad they didn't ask because I wouldn't have anything to show.
Twelve hours later, I found myself awake at 2 a.m., my thoughts ablaze, and surrounded by some of the smartest minds of my generation. How can we help Congo? They asked, What are the solutions?
Looking around, I realized -- I've found people like me. Curious people. People more interested in what could be than what is. Twenty-first century thinkers.
Now, I like entrepreneurs because they're problem solvers. They like to dig in the dirt a bit, dream up a crazy new approach to cleaning and then give it a go. Who knows if it will succeed? Who knows if it will fail? That's hardly the point. It's about defaulting toward action. Refusing to let fear control your behavior and living in possibility.
And let's be honest, we have some very real problems that need solving.
What kinds of problems? All kinds. I mean, Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has spoken of "water-wars" becoming one of the preeminent threats to human life in the next hundred years. This man is in charge of the world's largest international body. He knows what the problem is, understands the intricacies of the problem and is speaking out about it.
But it took a young promoter from Manhattan to convince any of us we could solve the problem. His goal? Raise $2 billion and provide clean drinking water to every person in every forgotten corner of the Earth.
Not too shabby for a city fella.
This is a nation founded on the will of the people, and grounded in a simple idea: all people are equal, all are born free. Some basic principles for us to agree on. But an exclusionary culture in D.C. has historically kept the populace out of the conversation and allowed our country to do things in our name that don't reflect our deepest values.
For many years, politicians have preached of the people rising, and passionistas have reveled in the need for revolution. But it took three crazy kids from San Diego to create a legitimately modern movement. Just this week, their organization Invisible Children helped pass historic legislation that, if Obama signs it, commits the United States to tracking down rebel leader Joseph Kony. No small shift.
I met a man dedicated to curing cancer. A woman who turns child's play into education, another who invests venture capital in character rather than short-term profit, a dude who is reinventing color (and on the side, coordinates volunteers in disaster areas), and the guy who built the street art campaign for Obama.
These are women and men, black and white, rich and poor, brought together by a singular quality -- they are bold.
And in an era with as many unknowns as ours, safe players are a far larger liability than the risk takers. If you're not willing to fail, you'll certainly never change things. So, for me and mine, I'll build my tent in the risky camp -- at least they stand a chance. As the world tosses and turns, optimism is the only operable option. If we don't behave as though there are solutions, there certainly won't be any.
As Bobby Kennedy said (and others before him), "If not now, when? And if not us, who?"
After three days of crazed collaboration, idea sharing, skydiving, planning and plotting, our dream camp was finally coming to a close. A different Bobby, but still a visionary leader, Bobby Chang was asked to give the keynote and wrap-up the weekend. And if you don't know Bobby, you're missing out. Find a way to meet him. Trust me, you'll understand after.
So, Bobby goes up on stage to deliver the keynote. And I have to admit, he presented a striking presence with a clean shave, fresh Miami tan, bright white shirt and a silver whistle hanging around his neck, glowing under the spotlight.
And standing there in front of some of the best young entrepreneurs in the country, his message was simple. "I am done with profit simply for the sake of profit. I want profit for purpose."
Ours is an idealistic generation. Connected across oceans, cultures, borders and wars, many of us have asked -- how do we build a better world? A world freer than our fathers'?
Many generations have wished for such things. Most have failed. The very real question facing us is, what will it take to actually make it happen? Do we have the guts to create real change? What can our connectivity create that has never been made before?
It will take leadership of course. Connections across every industry. A great deal of boldness. And collaboration at a level previously unimagined. But if there were ever a place where that kind of a shift could be birthed, it would be the Summit Series.
DC10 has arrived. What I'm wondering is -- what will it leave behind?
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