12/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Vancouver, Multicultural Gateway To The World

Beyond hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics, Vancouver is fast emerging as a key North American bridge to East, West, North and South. Three events in the past days specially emphasized that:

Vancouver Peace Summit: Nobel Laureates in Dialogue

Compassion, forgiveness and interdependence were major themes at the dialogue. The reality that despite outward differences humanity is largely the same was brought home by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, nursing a ruptured/herniated intervertebral disk and therefore unable to attend, who commented humorously by video from South Africa that he could not imagine his friend and fellow Nobelist The Dalai Lama being told in heaven, "you are a wonderful man, but because you are not a Christian...." The Dalai Lama chipped in that to be born as a human being is a relatively rare event and urged everyone to make the best of it.

At the Vancouver Summit, there was barely a mention of China, presumably in deference to China's strident assertion that the Tibet issue is its internal affair. But since India is home to an estimated 120,000 Tibetan refugees, many whom have lived in India for the past 50 years, Tibetan refugees are also an internal matter for India with broad humanitarian connotations. Tibetans abroad also live in other countries, but the majority are in India. Nevertheless, India is particular to denote Tibet as "Tibet Autonomous Region of the Peoples Republic of China." And while it is interesting that India and China have in recent years been cooperating on multiple fronts, especially in the G-20 and increasingly on trade, barbs are traded regularly (see here and here).

Therefore, for a peacefully negotiated settlement of those internal matters of both China and India, since no solution has emerged even after 50 years from bilateral channels, it may well be time to involve innovative entities (see here and here) on both sides, well beyond the approaches of the past that have had limited impact. And, of course, that is my personal opinion.

China has become remarkably successful, materially, recently surging past Germany in GDP terms (it is also true that China's population is 16 times larger than Germany's and GDP is a function of total population). Further, it is the largest "provider of capital" with the US being the top "recipient" of its capital, leading to the anomalous situation where a so-called developing country is the major financier of the most "developed" nation, a point stressed by the Deputy Governor of the Chinese Central Bank, Ms. Xiaolian Hu (see pages 81-82 in the linked volume of papers presented at the G20 Workshop on the Global Economy held in Mumbai). That is due to China producing most of the consumer goods seen in retail outlets in the US and many other countries today, and thereby consistently running massive trade surpluses.

Interestingly, much of what was stated at the Summit is synonymous with the concept of Yu-ai or fraternity championed by the Prime Minister of Japan Dr. Hatoyama (see here and here).

Comments from the Participants

The Dalai Lama as is his path in life shared a stream of truisms such as that compassion is not by words but rather by actions, and a self-hating person is incapable of compassion.
It was revealed that 200 million people had been killed by other humans in the 20th century alone. Thus the legitimate focus on empathy and compassion and the use of education to foster the best of humanity, recognizing that violence does not solve any problem permanently. It is something that Mahatma Gandhi was well aware of as he excelled in using non-violence to achieve freedom.

Nobelist Mairead Maguire advised everyone to not dominate and control children, to allow children to be themselves and to accept the child for who he/she is. Sir Ken Robinson pointed out that children in some countries today generally don't wear watches because they have other electronic devices such as iPods, computers and cell phones that all have the time on them, and said that passion and aptitude are vital for innovation. He emphasized how in school if one talks to others in an exam it is called cheating, but in the real world talking in a similarly high-pressure situation is called collaboration. He is known for his teaching on innovation, and his humorous speech at on whether schools are negating creativity is among the most viewed and downloaded today. Nobel Prize winner in Physics Murray Gell-Mann stated that problem formulation is trickier than problem solving and in schools problems are always formulated for you, thus making it difficult for students to adjust to the world outside when they are forced to innovate. Billionaire Pierre Omidyar, co-founder of eBay with his wife Pam, spoke about the transformative power of markets and social investments. He cited the example of a burly truck driver and a New York woman attorney who were able to connect on their mutual interest in children's dolls through eBay, and that was possible because eBay created trust between buyers and sellers and connected diversity. Eckhardt Tolle, a best-selling author and spiritualist, asked whether we are being used by the mind or whether we are using the mind, and stated that the mind can be unnecessarily critical and judgmental. He emphasized that it takes some 10,000 hours of practice to achieve excellence and to be prepared to be receptive to the power of creativity.

Jody Williams who won the Nobel Prize for her efforts to ban landmines is a specialist at visible deep-impact actions - such as placing a huge chair with three and a half legs outside the UN's European headquarters at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to emphasize what landmines actually do. Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams who won the prize for community peace efforts in Northern Ireland remembered fellow Nobelist Aung San Suu Kyi and even left a chair for her on the stage and gave advice to the crowd on how to achieve objectives through non-violence.

California's First Lady Maria Shriver, former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, and Harvard faculty member Swanee Hunt stressed the vital role of women, and Shriver revealed that she had been to Dharamsala to meet the Tibetans. Emmy award winner Peter Buffett, son of legendary investor Warren Buffett, on piano wowed the crowd with his renditions including the song he has composed and sung with Akon. He was accompanied by Michael Kott on cello. There is also a YouTube clip of Warren & Peter Buffett singing together, and Akon joined in too. Susan Davis of BRAC USA, a panel moderator, became visibly emotional when she described how atrocities had been occurring in parts of Africa while participants had been discussing compassion in the rarefied atmosphere of the Vancouver symposium, alluding to the futility of older division of labour models when academics were expected to produce a report or paper, diplomats to negotiate the solution, and no one else generally to be involved. Today, it appears to most that when multiple skills, competencies and resources are brought to bear especially by philanthropists, the probability of success is multiplied. The constraints on government actors are often so severe because of geopolitical considerations that it is imperative and essential for others to take the lead.

There were, as well, several likely Nobel Peace Prize winners: F.H. Abed, who created the largest non-governmental organization (NGO) in the world from scratch, BRAC acronym for Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, and built it to the current scale of about 118,000 staff and volunteers and millions of clients working in microfinance, health, education, to empower girls & women's in one of the most needy countries in the world (I was privileged to have worked with Dr. Abed 20 years ago when I was Assistant Director of a Harvard University Health Research Commission and Abed was a Member of that Commission, and our Report was released at a Nobel Conference in Stockholm), Ela Bhatt, the Gandhian who built the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) that is an organization of over 300,000 self-employed poor women who survive in the informal sector by their own labour or tiny business, and SEWA has provided a range of microfinance, insurance and health insurance solutions to them to ensure that the women and their families have access to support, and Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland who has since been involved in multiple endeavours such as the Elders.

The livewire organizer of the event, Victor Chan, who is of Chinese heritage and a self-described itinerant hippie in his youth who was kidnapped in 1971 in Afghanistan along with a student of Buddhism from New York on her way to see the Dalai Lama, resolved to accompany the student on her trip if they escaped from captivity. A car accident left the captors dazed, the hostages escaped and a few months later made their way to India. That incredible sequence of events brought him in contact with the Tibetans nearly 40 years ago - and it is from those roots that he has built on the broader issue in Vancouver over time. The event was jointly organized and funded by Vancouver's Dalai Lama Center and the Fetzer Institute and several other philanthropies and companies. Also, at an allied event, the "We Day," The Dalai Lama spoke to 16,000 students on the value of compassion.

The Vancouver Board of Trade and India's Burgeoning Retail Sector

The Board of Trade with the University of the Fraser Valley hosted a speech by Ashutosh Garg, CEO of Guardian Lifecare, a rapidly growing chain of pharmacies, that is part of the transformation taking place in retailing. India's retail sector is expected to become about $521 billion in size by 2012. Mr. Garg stressed technology and operational/supply chain excellence, innovation and commercialization, obsessive customer focus and alliances and collaboration with credible partners. The company, he said, is managing the pharmacy for many hospitals thereby enabling the hospitals to focus on the core competence of patient care. Trends ensuring continued demand include the proliferation of lifestyle diseases especially among urban Indians, sales of nutritional and herbal products & exercise supplements and increased coverage by health insurance and the reality of demographic change with an increasing number of senior citizens.

Dr. Rogers Prize for Complementary and Alternative medicine

The Prize and allied symposium are to seek to recognize the melding of the best of modern with ancient/traditional medicine. Financed by the John and Lotte Hecht Memorial Foundation, it was set up in perpetuity from the founders' lumber/sawmill and real-estate work and investments. One of this year's winners, Dr. Hal Gunn, uses an integrated model for cancer care emphasizing the treatment of the whole patient.

In a Nutshell

Vancouver's special opportunity was emphasized best by Canada's Haitian-born Governor General Madame Michaelle Jean who gave a passionate call at the Vancouver Peace Summit by video. With Canada hosting the G-8/G-20 meeting in 2010, the stage is set for several years of sustained Canadian involvement in the larger issues of our time.