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Reflecting on the 2018 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland

By Peter Laugharn, February 14, 2018

Our President and CEO Peter Laugharn recently returned from the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Following his return, he reflects on the annual meeting, which engaged the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

Upon arriving in Davos, Switzerland, I realized this town, nestled in the Alpine Valley, has a smaller population than Agoura Hills, where the Conrad N . Hilton Foundation is headquartered. Although it is a rather small village, the Los Angeles traffic followed me to Davos, taking three hours to travel 20 miles. Individuals from all over the world were converging in that small town: over 2500 participants and twice as many security personnel. Most of the men and women who gathered at Davos struck me as optimistic, pragmatic, concerned global citizens, looking for the ways to help the world advance in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Much of the Davos experience is a fascinating welter of ideas, very quick interactions with people with whom you wish you had more time, and the necessity of braving the elements to get from meeting to meeting. From time to time in Davos, the overcast parted, and the sky, forests and sunlit snow appeared and amazed. In the same way during the conference, the busyness seemed to stop, and there were moments of compelling ideas, powerful authenticity, and promising ways to work together.

By day three of Davos, I already had the pleasure of meeting with UNICEF Executive Director, Henrietta Fore, UN Development Programme Administrator Achim Steiner, United Kingdom Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah Brown, and LEGO Foundation CEO John Goodwin, among many other global leaders. Each of these meetings left me energized with the personable, passionate perspectives of each of these partners.

While my wife, Marie and I were talking with Gordon and Sarah Brown, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and his wife Nane Annan happened by and sat with us. This is the beauty of Davos as a networking spot. Kofi Annan spoke of his Humanitarian Prize symposium keynote speech in 2001. We made a grant in honor of him as the keynote speaker to an organization chosen by him, and he still remembers that he contributed that grant to the new start-up, Global Funds on AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria– he sent his grateful regards to the Foundation, that we could help him get that work started.

L to R: Sarah Brown, Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation President and CEO Peter Laugharn, Marie Kagaju Laugharn, Nane Annan, and Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

My time in Davos also gave me a moment to reflect on our founder’s approach to hospitality:

Each of our hotels is a “little America,” not as a symbol of bristling power, but as a friendly center where men of many nations and of good will may speak the language of peace. - Conrad N. Hilton, Be My Guest

Conrad Hilton would have been very pleased with the role the Hilton Garden Inn played at Davos. Very much a “friendly center,” with dozens of conversations going at any given moment tackling the forum’s theme of “creating a shared future in a fractured world.” Granted, there are some differences: it’s more of a “little United Nations” than a “little America,” and there are as many women as men, but the spirit of dialogue and optimism, even against a challenging backdrop, is palpable.

Political, business and other global leaders convene in the lobby of the Hilton Garden Inn in Davos, Switzerland.

On the final day of Davos, I had the opportunity to sit down with Cardinal Peter Turkson, a remarkable man who heads the Vatican’s Dicastery (department) of Integral Human Development. A Ghanaian who struck me as soft-spoken, enthusiastic, and determined, Cardinal Turkson delivered the Pope’s message at the opening of the World Economic Forum, emphasizing “an ethic of sustainable and integral development, based on values that place the human person and his or her rights at the centre,” and decrying “technical and economic questions dominating political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings.”

It was astonishing how quickly the World Economic Forum ceases to exist after the closing ceremony. The Hilton Garden Inn, which provided to be a common epicenter for the conference, was empty from all of the “people of many nations and good will” that had days prior filled the lobby tackling the world’s problems, but I like to think that this is because we’ve all heading back to our respective front lines, with renewed energy, ideas and possibilities.

For me, I’ve come back to the Foundation with a refreshed enthusiasm for the Foundation’s potential as a leader in areas, such as the Sustainable Development Goals. My colleagues and I at the Foundation look forward to framing our leadership in ways that are deeply grounded in the everyday lives of people, not just in the heady globalist Alpine air of Davos.

Peter Laugharn Twitter

President and CEO

Peter Laugharn Twitter

President and CEO

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