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Reflections From Davos

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As I write at the end of the World Economic Forum in Davos, I'm struck by the sense that there is a lot of news this year, but ironically, it wasn't made in Davos. The news is that there's a lot of creativity, passion, and even healing going on in the world but it doesn't necessarily stem from the investment bankers, CEOs or government elites at Davos.

Consider a few examples:

One senior government minister gave his appraisal of what's going on in Europe: "When it comes to the crisis, everyone in Europe heard the adage, 'when you're in a hole, stop digging.' So that's what everyone here has done: they stopped digging and at the same time, they stopped everything. Nothing is going on and no one's doing anything." Hrumph!

That may well be the state of affairs among the political and financial elite, but I don't think for a minute that it's the state of affairs in Europe or anywhere else. While the big shots may be paralyzed by political dysfunction, the rest of the world is witnessing one of the most creative and entrepreneurial generations in history. Teach for the World (The Spanish equivalent of Teach for America) had thousands of applications this year for just a few dozen spots. Despite the global financial crisis, the social sector has kept creating jobs since 2008. According to Changing Our World, Inc. the number of public charities in the U.S. has tripled in the past decade while the number of foundations has doubled over the past 20 years. Technology adoption is also moving at light speed, a clear indicator of openness to and enthusiasm for change. For example, a team from MIT demonstrated a portable and inexpensive manufacturing technology that will do to huge machinery what the iPad did to mainframe computers: scale them down and lower the cost of entry, thus enabling a micro-manufacturing revolution. We may well be in the midst of the creative revolution that will outdo the industrial revolution in its power to change the world. But the folks at Davos aren't leading it.

Another piece of big news: Africa. But not because not much of anything was said about it in Davos. In recent years, Africa has been the focus of heartbreaking discussions about its salient political and economic challenges. In some years past, the news we heard from Africa focused on wars, natural disasters, corrosive corruption, unmanageable debt, and devastating diseases. But not this year. I am well aware that great poverty and human challenges remain in Africa, and it was encouraging to see Bill Gates continue to commit hundreds of millions of dollars to the global fund to fight Malaria, Tuberculosis, and AIDS. But the quiet news was this: Africa is growing. It's young people are creative and hardworking, businesses are doing well and many countries are experiencing political stability for the first time in decades. Africa was news because Africa wasn't news.

One of my favorite news making moments came from the great Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Retired but still travelling the world at the age of 80, Tutu returned to Davos as he has so many times to exhort the world's most financially powerful people to arc toward justice and equality. He reminded everyone that wild disparities in wealth are to no one's advantage and that fairness should be a goal for the human family. "We are all made for goodness," he cheered, "even Bankers!"

I hope Tutu's irrepressible good spirit, while it didn't make news last week, will make news as it settles into the hearts and minds of the leaders who were listening. And I hope it will inspire more than a few to find new formulas for economic growth and productivity that somehow do better at promoting the interests of the poor and the wealthy alike.

Finally, although Special Olympics didn't top the headlines in Davos, our movement's fundamental message was embraced by a refreshingly receptive audience. At a reception hosted by our longtime partner and leading global brand, Coca-Cola, CEO Muhtar Kent recounted his meeting with Andrés Delgado from Venezuela, a Special Olympics athlete who has Down syndrome and is employed by Coca Cola. As Muhtar spoke, he pointed his audience to a wonderful picture of the two of them together -- both full of life, Delgado smiling ear to ear, a huge hug binding them to one another. To the hundreds of guests, it was a powerful image of one of the world's most powerful people united with one of the world's least powerful. But looking closely, there was another message: that all the misunderstanding and fear that separates us can be healed -- that we can actually create meaningful relationships and authentic communities if we make the investment of our time, energy and resources.

And that's good news no matter where or when you get it.

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