Archive for October 18th, 2011

World Economic Forum Global Event Councils 2011

October 18th, 2011

Last week I spent a few days at the World Economic Forum’s annual brain-storming event, the gathering of its “Global Agenda Councils.” One of my fellow-council members (Julia Hobsbawm — an extremely focused and efficient communicator) has already published her description of this year’s event. Rather than duplicate her work, I’ll simply thank her and add a bit about my experience.

The WEF asked me to facilitate a discussion during one of the break-out sessions. The overall session was Digital Governance, and probably 100 or 125 of the attendees choose this topic. Within this session there were 5 discussion groups, each with a particular question for discussion, and peopleĀ  chose which questions they wanted to address.

The discussion I was asked to facilitate was “The Rights of the One vs the Needs of the Many — How does the digital world affect the way we think about this question?” I wasn’t sure how the discussion would go, but it was great. We covered very practical aspects such as “What is ‘the many,’ in a world where groups from across boundaries and may shift freely?” “What about jurisdictional issues?”

We also delved into some very theoretical topics such as the nature of pluralism, and does one need a “center that holds” to turn a bunch of groups into a pluralistic society? One upon a time I was well versed in political theory and facile with its use as an analytic tool, but it has been a while. I had to listen carefully and think hard to engage with the theoretical thinkers in the group. It was exhilarating.

The people who are invited to the Global Agenda Councils have already become known through their work. As a result, the group tends to be older, more “successful,” more male, more Western than general demographics. I found this version of the event to make some progress in these issues. Maybe it’s because my Council had good geographic distribution, as Julia chronicles. The Councils still don’t reflect the giant part of the world’s population that is under 25, and sometimes I feel this acutely. On the other hand, I don’t think I had the experience of being the only woman in any of the groups I came across, which happens to me regularly in Silicon Valley.

The work product of the few days together is a bit abstract, since the task was to figure out new models for approaching the world’s big problems. I agree with Julia that there’s a great deal of benefit in “mash-ups” of people with different areas of expertise. I always think carefully about attending, because it takes close to a week and there are some drawbacks. But I’m always drawn by the amazing assortment of people, and leave feeling the event is unique and worthwhile.

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