Last Sunday, I attended the closing session of the World Economic Forum title "What is Dignity?" I expected the session to be held at the main Congress Center, but I eventually found it in one of the smaller halls in the main part of the building. There weren't many people there, perhaps 150 at most and many of them were speakers in the event. Most people were hungover, packing or on the sky slopes.
The session started with a film on the concept of dignity that used striking visuals and then held a discussion panel similar to others held at Davos and hosted by John Defterios. The mix at first was an eclectic selection of charities from around the world talking about the inhumanity around the world that is faced by brave people who have held their dignity. It started slow, but gradually picked up steam as the speakers became more emboldened and strengthened by their causes.
Crown Prince Haakan and John Bryant Hope
It really started to pick up when a young man by the name of John Hope Bryant started to speak. My goodness, I thought the art of oratory was gone until I heard him. He talked about his mentor, Andrew Young, being inspired by his mentor, Martin Luther King Jr. I could hear the power of Dr. King in his voice. He spoke of the dignity that he saw in the poorest of men in India and the lessons that it can provide America. "In order to have dignitiy you have to offer it first...You cannot call yourself a leader unless you are prepared to serve."
I heard from several speakers from many faiths and walks of life that what is required to bring dignity to everyone is respect, the ability to give something back to the world and for all of us to give dignity back. Dutch Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, saved from the Nazis, talked about bringing dignity and opportunity to the Palestinians. There were those that worked for the poor, disposessed, and disabled talking about our need to provide the means of dignity to others. The Crown Prince of Norway spoke passionately and emotionally about visiting an AIDS hospice where both a husband and wife had AIDS and they did not know what would happen to their small children or aged mother and asking him "Do all you can to make sure that this does not happen to anyone else?" His speech made me proud to be half-Norwegian.
After all of this emotion, Defterios brought everyone back to earth by saying "I think Kleenex has a big market opportunity here."
One of the last speakers was Linda Rottenberg who talked about trying to inspire kids in Latin America with the story of Steve Jobs and Apple, since that is what inspired her. The kids told her, "What relevance is that to me? I don't have a computer. I don't have a garage." She is now focusing on helping role models in Latin America to present to kids in Latin America. It occurred to me that here is an area I can actually help. Open source can be done anywhere, even with Nick Negroponte's $100 computers.
Irene Khan, Amnesty International
Finally in summing up, Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International, said that this was more spirtual than any service that we could have in a church, synagogue or mosque and that we can go out with our soul recharged. (I agree.) She also said that this session should be the first next year. That this provides the foundation for why we are all meeting in Davos and it should be the major CEOs and world leaders listening to these stories. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the Forum, was in the audience and we will see what will happen. It was certainly a loss for the 2250 delegates who didn't attend.
In a forum that focused on connectedness and a network world, a human dimension seemed to be missing. Fairness was sort of a subtheme, but in an us vs. them sort of way. I think it helps to have discussions like this to put everything in perspective. I have never seen such an assemblage of power and influence and as much good intention behind it. However, missing this type of context makes it difficult to sustain.
In my own world, I can see the argument of dignity in a world that is starting to creep with spying, bullying, spamming, sexual explotiation and collaboration of terrorist threat. However, the internet and the new networked world is empowering, making it possible to make a living in the first world from anywhere in the world. It doesn't matter what you look like, what color your skin is or if you have a disability, you can still work and contribute to the world. I hope it is a track toward dignity for all.
Help keep me honest. Ask me occassionally what I have done in getting open source opportunities or even inspirational stories to those kids in Latin America. And ask yourself, what have you done today to bring a bit of dignity to the world.
Photos Copyright (c) 2007 Associated Press