Ambassador from Mauritius, Barkha Mossae reflects on her experience of being surrounded by the world's most powerful people.
Follow Barkha on Twitter: @BarkhaMo
If you suddenly found yourself in a big room filled with the world’s most influential people, what would you do? This is the question which briefly occurred to me when I found myself at 1500 metres in altitude, -12 degrees Celsius in temperature, in the iconic Swiss village of Davos.
Davos is famous for the world’s most important diplomatic event after the UN General Assembly. Regrouping the world’s Heads of States, top business people, academicians, artists, social entrepreneurs, young leaders, figures from civil society and global governance, it is home to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting.
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It was an utterly insane experience to be there, as part of the World Economic Forum’s initiative for under-30s: the Global Shapers Community.
This blog post cannot capture the whole experience – so I’d like to share my main answers to the question – what can one do when surrounded by the world’s most influential people?
At the end of the Annual Meeting, I felt like I had talked more in those five days than I had in a year. The purpose of the Forum is precisely: bringing together people so that they can talk.
When I arrived in Davos, I felt like I was in some kind of warped Kuiper’s belt composed of bright people, and that the cosmic compulsion was to talk at every opportunity you get: in the corridors, in panels, during lunch, in the shuttle, in the bathroom. You get the picture, everywhere.
Everyone had a story to tell and none were more inspiring than those of the young people, the young Shapers and Global Leaders, who had been doing innovative, amazing things to make the world a better place. These ranged from setting up open-access platforms for social enterprises to empowering rose farmers.
The lesson I learnt was: one stands to gain a lot from interacting with passionate people, people who are driven by some goal or ideal. Although it’s important to interact with everyone, sometimes what you really need is to be in a special circle of people who do not subscribe to the status quo or to the routine respectable life.
2. Feel weak
Talking to people isn’t an easy task when you’re a little bit unsure of what you have to say. Coming from a cultural background, which doesn’t provide a lot of options for young people to express themselves, it was an absolutely thrilling experience to come together with the world’s greatest minds to discuss global development issues.
Participating in a lunch on climate change, I found myself in a discussion led by Ms. Christiana Figueres herself. At the best of times, being told to give your opinion by the head of the UNFCCC is daunting. I realised very acutely my weaknesses, and the shortcomings in my expertise about the subjects. As one fellow Global Shaper from Tokyo described it, Davos gave the opportunity to realise one’s weaknesses.
(Above: Barkha Mossae with: Kumi Naidoo, Head of Greenpeace and Ms. Figueres, Head of UNFCCC)
However, this was not such a bad thing after all. “Weakness” came to take on a new meaning altogether. It came to signify the areas of knowledge where I could explore more, and therefore critically develop more innovative solutions.
Furthermore, as was the case in the climate change lunch and subsequent experiences, it was clear that elder generations had a keen interest in hearing out what we young people had to say. So the most important part was recounting the world and our solutions from our lenses, because this gives a fresh perspectives to global issues.
3. Leave your comfort zone
For a tropical person, accustomed to 30 degrees Celsius throughout the year, heading to a place where temperatures plummeted to -18 was certainly equivalent to leaving the comfort zone.
But where I really stepped out of it was when I decided to venture into sessions that I had no clue about and which weren’t about my primary interests. For instance, I decided to walk into a session on the beginning of the universe, a session based on particle physics and technology, where I learnt how science is integral to mankind’s evolution and how technology helps us decipher the beginning and end of the universe. Another time, I decided to attend a session on design.
What this left me with was an amalgamation of ideas which helped to inform the subject that I am genuinely interested in: International Relations and sustainable development. Going into sessions on which I knew nothing about helped me realise the utter wealth of knowledge which lay out there. Maybe I’ll never read up more about particles and gluons and quarks, but for sure I will know that International Relations should be aware that they exist, and that it is important to take this knowledge on board when crafting policies for sustainable development.
4. Fall in love with technology
The emphasis on technology was one of the things which struck me most. In particular, I have become very inspired to see how young people believe that technology can change politics and business through open-source information, which empowers individuals, thus giving the microcosm the opportunity to be part of a larger political whole and also participate actively in devising policy.
I attended an utterly mind-boggling, amazing session entitled "Digital Masterpiece," which featured Matt Mullenweg (founder of Wordpress), Eric Whitacre (Composer and Conductor) and Perry Chen (CEO of Kickstarter), which demonstrated the use of social media as a collaborative tool, as well as how new technologies could foster creativity.
(Above: "Digital Masterpiece" session with Matt Mullenweg, Eric Whitacre, and Perry Chen)
Furthermore, design and more and more innovative options for using data, for finding resources, for creating public awareness through technology were also transforming the way we perceive politics or society or business, giving us more options to be creative and empowering us with information and the ability to get our voices heard on a large scale.
I was thus fully convinced of the virtues of technology and communication as a key factor in development and in making politics so much better.
These were my four main “takeaways” from Davos. It really is impossible to pinpoint all of them! The whole experience was like getting a power-up effect on my activism and my views on international relations and sustainable development. All, through interaction with insanely passionate and innovative people.