Davos Agenda

Only collaboration can solve the world's most pressing problems

Refugees and migrants walk after disembarking from the passenger ferry Eleftherios Venizelos from the island of Lesbos at the port of Piraeus, near Athens, Greece, December 26, 2015.

To make progress on issues like the refugee crisis, check your personal agendas at the door. Image: REUTERS/Michalis Karagiannis

Neal Keny-Guyer
Chief Executive Officer, Mercy Corps
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Davos Agenda

A common demand from civil society types like me at Davos is, “Pay attention to us!” If we are going to overcome big global problems like climate change and violent extremism, we tell our friends from government and business, you must engage with us, hear our voices, and fund our work. But sometimes we focus too much on narrow organizational agendas and not on the more prophetic matters of justice and dignity.

My invitation to the Davos community this year – especially my fellow civil society representatives – is that we try harder to check our organizational agendas at the door. The world is facing a truly daunting set of challenges. We have more refugees in the world than at any time since World War II. We have an alarming climate situation that – even with the Paris deal – requires an all-hands commitment to reversing. We are increasingly seeing, as US Secretary of State John Kerry recently put it, that instability anywhere can be a threat to stability everywhere.

If we are going to make real progress on these issues, we need to prioritize solutions over self-promotion. This does not mean that we in civil society should sacrifice our prophetic voice. We should always “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”. This is who we are. But we are most effective when we place our voice and efforts in the wider ecosystem of change.

At its best, Davos is a platform for improving the state of the world, not an opportunity for civil society organizations such as my own to toot our horns. At its best, Davos is a multi-stakeholder platform – governments, business, and civil society organizations coming together to tackle big global issues.

Big societal issues are rarely – if ever – resolved by a single sector. When the policy power of government meets the innovation engine of business and the energy of civil society, big solutions are possible. It takes all three to bring about and sustain social, political, and economic progress.

Take the current refugee crisis.

Typically, the response to a refugee crisis is mounted by governments and NGOs. Host countries figure out how to accommodate incoming migrants. NGOs and host governments try to meet the needs of those migrants the best they can. All the while, ideally, there is a political process to resolve the conflict that’s displacing people. When and if a political settlement is achieved, donor governments, NGOs, and multilateral institutions come together to help displaced people return home and get their lives back on track.

But the private sector has a great contribution to make to this effort, and thanks to conveners like the Forum we are seeing that happen more and more. After consultation with Google, for example, Mercy Corps and the International Rescue Committee (IRC) established Refugeeinfo.eu as a mobile multi-language platform for refugees and those hosting them in Europe – Greeks, Serbians, Macedonians, Slovenians. The site provides refugees with information about transit, lodging, healthcare, currency exchange, and other critical services.

In addition to matching donation from its community, Airbnb has provided travel credits to Mercy Corps and the IRC so that our aid workers have a free place to call home while they are meeting the needs of refugees moving through Greece and the Balkans.

In another case, longtime Mercy Corps partner MasterCard is using its payments expertise to help provide prepaid cards to people on the move and in need of flexible, mobile funds. This allows refugees the dignity of making their own decisions about the things they need most while offering more security than cash.

That’s a move in the right direction. As we start to implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and prepare for the World Humanitarian Summit this spring – a promising moment to start fixing our broken humanitarian system – we need to prioritize the role of the private sector in meeting the world’s most urgent needs.

The challenges today – increased suffering and displacement in fragile states; heightened fear and xenophobia in the more stable ones; rising inequality; the promise and perils of technology - demand that business, civil society, and government leaders come together in an unprecedented way.

I have come from a gathering in Uganda of Mercy Corps’ global leadership, in which I reminded my colleagues of the wise and valuable African proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We in the Forum community would be well-served to remember that sentiment as we come together this month.

Neal Keny-Guyer is participating in this year's Annual Meeting in Davos.

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