Davos: Quiet Optimism Rises, Angelina Who?, and a Bonus to Giving Idea

Much of the hoopla around Davos has been the 'doom and gloom', the 'Putin smackdown' and of course the quite dramatic Gaza debate. The other subtext has been the lack of big parties and what I can only refer to as 'crouching opportunities, hidden banker' (more on that in a later post).

There is actually an arc forming here at the Forum. Day one was despair, day two was anger and day three is an emergence of a quite optimism -- at least from those who've worked in crisis (prior to 2008). The funny thing is the biggest names in journalism are completely missing it, because they are talking to the biggest names in business (ie. the folks who have been rocked to the core and have no idea what to do.) In a time of crisis, you need a crisis leader.

The Quiet Optimism

Five moments reassured me that I was not crazy in thinking that the power shift that is happening is actually an incredible opportunity for disruptive and agile leadership to emerge.

1. The first was a panel lead by Matthew Bishop, author of Philanthrocapitalism and stacked with a near rock star cast of characters. Instead of Angelina, Bono or Clooney the heavyweights of Blair, Branson, Clinton, Gates, Jet Li and Yunus spoke on the effect of this crisis on foundations and the poor. While their was strong resilience from the west, it was the refreshing honesty of Jet Li and Muhammad Yunus that opened up the sense that there is opportunity within disruption in the social sector.

I have one suggestion to Gates, Clinton and Blair - go talk to the president, one of you must have his number and you can call him from here. Let's devise a tax on corporate bonuses that is at the highest rate possible with one exception if you donate it to charitable causes then you are exempt from further punishment. This can be done overnight and by April 15 those who are in need most will receive up to $18B in supporting the real victims of the financial crisis. Let's turn a stupid, stupid decision into a great one in one pen stroke.

2. A closed door workshop with some of the biggest leaders in corporate retail. The topic was sustainability and I naturally went in cynical. What I found was quite incredible. A group of some of the biggest rivals talking about sustainability with conviction and profound knowledge. When sustainability is viewed as being a matter of survival for your business I believe you can create massive change. If this gang can integrate ideas discussed I bet 50% of the companies will be in slight profit by the 4th quarter.

3. This afternoon was a real funk for me. I was supposed to be at an event with Desmond Tutu, an hero of mine since I met him aged 11, but I wasn't in the mood. Last night one of our partners with in Kenya, SIDAREC, suffered a tragic loss as their Punwani community center had burned to the ground. Using Skype (and sitting next to Bill Gates eating a pack lunch) I managed to get a hold of the team. luckily there were no injuries and despite this tragic situation Lucy Mathai ended the skype call "we have only lost our valuables, though our knowledge is still intact. We will come back stronger than ever". If only a few CEOs thought like that.

4. The design panel. seriously. While treated by most attendees as a frivolous add-on, the panelists actually came prepared with solutions for those most effected by this crisis. and presented them. I used the opportunity to launch a global challenge to improve the standards of classrooms around the world. With over 600 million people illiterate in the world and a lack of 10 million classrooms, we need a global revolution that combines the energy of students, knowledge of teachers and expertise of the design profession.

5. Treat the world like a failed state, then you can understand the players needed to fix it. A simple concept articulated by Ashraf Ghani, former financing minister of Afghanistan in what should have been a plenary session but was a corridor conversation about how the loudest voices here just don't get it. He then spend a good 15 minutes discussing the real opportunities for reshaping the entire system of governance and the financial mechanisms that shape it.

Personal Moments of the Day (part 2)

Best Moment: (three way draw)
1. Having the former Vice President speak highly about the sustainable work we are doing to a crowd of very exceptional people.

2. Hearing that Lucy, George and all the kids made it out of the SIDAREC fire last night and green-lighting a new center for them.

3. Launching the 2009 Open Architecture Challenge after two years of development and research. Enter now if you care about the state of classrooms.

Sweetest moment:
Watching Jet Li personally talk to everyone without handlers and handing out business cards at a crowded party.

Worst Moment:
Being singled out in a panel on mobile web technologies and social networks for our work in Myanmar. It's like Howard Dean being singled out on a panel on 70s dance moves.

Oddest Moment:
1. (in a funny way) Seeing a reporter blog the incident and almost use the name David Cameron.

2. (in a bad way) Steve Forbes hosting an event for the World"s 100 Most Powerful Women and not letting one woman speak - when most were in the room. Hope this gets brought up on the women's empowerment panel tomorrow.

Last note:
Did an interview with the BBC after 20 hours of being awake and hope he understood the difference between being excited by the disruptive opportunities in this climate vs. within Davos itself. As someone on a free pass, I'd like to come back.