Many think the World Economic Forum is like a meeting of the United Nations, where politicians and other decision makers meet to speak. Not many know that the WEF, launched as a not-for-profit organization in 1971 by Klaus and Hilde Schwab, is something completely different: a place where people come to listen.
This year was my second time in Davos – last year I was a newcomer, surprised by the amazing atmosphere, the number of different talented, successful and, even more important, interested and involved men and women who are there to contribute to the communities of the world, to – forgive the cliché – make a difference.
Among the 2,500 people gathering at Davos every year are successful businesspeople and politicians, but about ten percent of the participants are scientists, social entrepreneurs and the aptly named Young Global Leaders – among them, me.
While I feel somewhat uncomfortable with the title, it is truly a unique opportunity for people who want to promote a cause, gather advice and get people interested in their project. In my case that’s the emergency first response organization I started in Israel – United Hatzalah.
Among so many meetings of varying lengths, I had the chance to talk to Bill Gates, who needs no introduction. It was such an honor to see him interested in the idea of a community-based first response organization. He understood the importance of it and the opportunities inherent in it: a lifesaving model that does not need significant equipment, that is scalable, and that can be implemented anywhere on the world. He was happy to hear we are not planning to keep the model to ourselves but are ready and willing to share it with anyone who is interested.
And many were. I met with people from Lithuania, Brazil, India, China. They all understood how a Hatzalah-like emergency first response team could benefit their communities and how people can help their own neighbors with the help of United Hatzalah’s unique GPS system (and, of course, a few motorcycles).
I also met with several leaders from the Middle East – from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, even Lebanon – who were pleasantly surprised when I told them how our Jewish and Arab volunteers work together for the greater purpose of saving lives. Many said I taught them something about Israel they hadn’t known before.
The culmination of the Forum, at least for me, was the Friday dinner, with kosher food and more than 240 participants, where Jacob Frenkel, the chairman of JPMorgan Chase International, said the Kiddush and Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat gave the dvar Torah.
At the table sat Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, who will soon turn 90 but is younger in spirit than all of us. I felt truly privileged to be there, to greet Shabbat in such an outstanding company of people.
We talked about the issues we face and the problems we need to solve. How what makes us unique does not have to be what keeps us apart. The underlying human goals and needs can bring us together.
Before finishing my account, I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. Schwab, the outstanding couple who made all this possible and who, in very real way, are responsible for all the good that comes about at these occasions. As far as I’m concerned, the search for the next Nobel Peace Prize winners can stop right now. We have them already.