Over 2500 participants, including nearly 50 heads of state, will converge on Davos for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2016 to discuss and take action on the critical issues shaping our future. Among them will be the delegation of Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs, outstanding entrepreneurs from all corners of the globe who are pioneering market-based, scalable solutions to some of the most complex problems we facing.
Social Entrepreneurs in Davos are contributing their views and expertise to over 20 Annual Meeting panel sessions and workshops and actively participating in dozens of private sessions alongside top business and government leaders. We need the voices, perspectives, and experiences of these leaders from the frontlines to inform the debate, challenge conventional thinking, and come up with concrete responses.
As Middle Eastern and European countries grapple with the refugee crisis, how can we ground our discussions about appropriate policy responses in the experiences of those working with displaced persons and migrants every day, such as Pierre Issa of arcenciel who is providing support services in the Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon and Ramazan Salman of Ethno-Medizinisches Zentrum who is facilitating the integration of Syrian refugees in Germany?
And as we think about security issues, particularly personal security for women and girls, what can the experiences of The Citizens Foundation in Pakistan teach us? Over the past twenty years, founder Mushtaq Chhapra has created the largest private school network in Pakistan, with 165,000 students (50% of them girls) in 1,000 schools located in some of the most insecure parts of the country.
In addition to security and migration, employment and environment are high on the agenda at Davos. Neelam Chhiber of Industree Crafts Foundation in India is on her way to enabling 30,000 rural women and young people to generate $15 billion in income over their working life, creating jobs for another 300,000 micro-entrepreneurs across the value chain. What lessons can this cost-effective model offer for other countries struggling with unemployment?
And now that the state of our world’s oceans has been properly recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals as a critical environmental issue (goal number 14), how can the leaders at Davos support the market-based mechanisms pioneered by Rupert Howes of the Marine Stewardship Council, which has mobilized key retailers such as McDonalds to support sustainable seafood and has already certified 275 fisheries in 36 countries?
Beyond just their specific areas of expertise, though, Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs have so much more to contribute as we featured in our major media campaign last month. They innovate new business models that work on tiny margins. They develop trust relationships in challenging environments. They leverage technology to lower costs, disrupt distribution, and monitor outcomes.
At the most fundamental level, what social entrepreneurs offer is their problem-solving mindset – something the world desperately needs right now. As longstanding Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur Martin Burt rightly said:
“Social entrepreneurs look at the same problem from a different perspective. They see the opportunity inside each problem. When we see a child in a rural village crawling in the dirt for lack of wheelchair, what is the opportunity there? When we go to an urban slum and see a serious problem with hygiene and sewage, what is the opportunity there? Every single social problem is an opportunity.”
Author: Hilde Schwab is the Chairperson and Co-Founder of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. She is participating in the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.