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Does Davos Tech Idealism Actually Do Anything?

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, January 24 2013

Flickr/World Economic Forum.

The World Economic Forum is ongoing in Davos, Switzerland this week, with 2,600 representatives from organizations around the world coming together under the banner of “resilient dynamism,” the optimistic — if abstruse — theme for the 2013 conference. In these dynamic times, tech and its applications for the greater good are prominent on the agenda, but some are wondering how the conference’s idealism will play out in real-world applications.

In attendance for the second year at Davos are the Global Shapers, a group of innovators and entrepreneurs under age 30 who are selected from around the world to attend the WEF. As might be expected of the millennial generation, many are tech wunderkinds — a Deutsche Welle Online article cites delegates from Argentina, Egypt, Myanmar, and Germany, some with startups under their belts, all with strategies for empowering their countries with social tech. Yet Erica Dhawan, a current Global Shaper and veteran of an e-learning social enterprise startup in India that was mired by its overseas financial backers, wrote in Forbes editorial yesterday that, in order to see dividends on their social investments, WEF participants might benefit from a change in perspective:

Social entrepreneurship is just a buzz word, and it never succeeds without a deep understanding of the local environment, corporate governance, and long-term infrastructure. If I were Bill Gates or any other elites at Davos, I would remove the champagne and shrimp cocktail and bring the CEOs to India for a week as an assessment team.

Another blow to the tech dialogue at Davos this year is the noted absence of certain key players; Google, which has hosted several public and private events in years past, canceled its meeting without apparent cause before the conference. Only a handful of Google employees are in attendance, along with only two from Facebook, a number that apparently does not include Mark Zuckerberg. If major companies are are ducking out of the conference, the tech conversation could be limited. It may be cause for the WEF to reformulate its perspective on tech investment, and on empowering people across the world who can't pay up for a $40,000 ticket.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.