3 questions I had before Davos (and the answers after)

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Last week, I went to Davos for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting. It was my first time and I did not know what to expect. I did have a LOT of questions though. Some of my questions were quite trivial like “is it going to be crazy cold?”, “will there be rice somewhere?”, “will I cry every time I miss my baby?” and “do I have the right shoes for the event + snow + walking + dancing?”. Let’s get those out of the way. The answers were: no, yes, almost always, and yes!

Of course, I also had more substantial questions that have the potential to guide my decisions and actions for my life, work, and advocacy. Throughout the week, I was able to gather some answers and learn a lot.

Question 1: Will I be able to represent our artisans, advocacies, and country?

Answer 1:

YES! I was given the opportunity to speak in two sessions. The first session was about enabling E-commerce for small enterprises to become global players. I was part of a panel together with Jack Ma (Alibaba), Prime Minister Mercedes Araoz (Peru), and Director-General Roberto Azevedo (WTO), moderated by Richard Samans (WEF). And the second session was a dinner panel called “You Are What You Wear” where I was a discussion leader together with Stella McCartney, Ellen MacArthur, Stefan Doboczky, Valter Sanches, and Vincent Biruta, moderated by Hadley Gamble.

These sessions were planned (so well) ahead of time and though I prepared, I was still really wondering if a voice as small as mine representing artisans and communities will be heard in a stage as big as the World Economic Forum in Davos. Big businesses and policy makers meet in this place, discuss ideas on how to improve the state of the world, and for a few, even actually create collaborations that bring about systemic change. It was easy to feel small indeed! And let’s be honest here, we are small (and I don’t just mean my height). But this is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a great thing!

See, our being small allow us to see things from the ground and the grassroots where most of the people are. And when we talk about improving the state of the world, we cannot possibly forget the majority of the world.

For both the sessions I contributed in, I was probably the one closest to the grassroots. And I took that as a huge responsibility to magnify the needs from the ground and really represent the voices that need to be heard by the decision makers that affect their lives. This role was a bit daunting (fine, VERY daunting), but it was exciting and inspiring. A few days after the Annual Meeting, I was already in touch with industry leaders and luminaries who are interested to get our insights for policies and business decisions, as well as collaborate with us (more on that soon!)!

Question 2: What sessions / people will surprise me and make an impact on me?

Answer 2: 

There were a few sessions that I really enjoyed and learned from, but the most memorable ones were also the most painful.

I have been exposed to poverty almost all my life so it was easy for me to say that I have seen it all. It was devastating to be reminded that pain and suffering is still happening every single day in extreme situations that I could only imagine.

The first session that made an impact on me was the one where Cate Blanchett talked about her experiences and advocacy as a Goodwill Ambassador of the UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency). I was not expecting to hear the things I heard from the session. But maybe that was also because I did not set many expectations. Like many who signed up for the session, I was there in-part as an admirer of her work as an actress, and perhaps mildly interested in what she had to say about the plight of refugees around the world. I left the room incredibly touched by the stories she shared and challenged by how big the problems are. I realised something that I knew all along but forget sometimes: that we are all human beings, figuring things out together and trying our best to make sense of what we are capable of (both good and evil) and how we can be better or make things better for others.

That session foreshadowed another event that made an impact on me: A Day in the Life of a Refugee. Mark and I attended this during our last day (it was running for the whole duration of the annual meeting) and it put a lot of the things we learned, into perspective.

The program started with a simulation where the participants (us!) were assigned random “identities” that we will own while inside the 20-minute simulation. My identity was Suad Yehia, a 15-year old unmarried factory worker who is malnourished and have no assets to even buy food or medicine. During the 20 minutes, the participants experienced a morsel of what it is like to live as a refugee in camps around the world. After the simulation, we heard harrowing yet hopeful stories from past refugees themselves or aid workers working with refugees.

The Day in the Life of a Refugee experience was definitely memorable and eye-opening. I am strangely comforted that my experience working in poverty alleviation has not made me callous to the needs of others, no matter how disturbing or painful they may be.

It is easy to think that I am already doing my part and doing enough but the truth is, there is still so much to be done. And it is also easy to think that the problems of the world are too big and there is nothing we can do, when in fact, every single thing we actually do, matters.

To learn more about the program and how you can help, visit http://www.refugee-run.org/. And of course, closer to home, you can explore how you can contribute to different organizations that are creating solutions to various social problems such as hunger, homelessness, lack of quality education, and poverty, among many others.

Question 3: Who will be changing the world? And how can we create bigger impact together?

Answer 3:

Many people I have met in Davos are already changing the world and I know that more people will. For one, a of lot partnerships between social entrepreneurs (the community I am part of!) and key decision-makers are already in discussion, and I’m excited for the future because of these collaborations. When powerful decision-makers come together, big things can happen. But when powerful decision-makers come together with leaders who represent the powerless, good things can begin.

But this is just a small part of the big change that has to happen.

World-changing is not exclusive to the big decision-makers because if you really think about it, we are all decision-makers. The small or big decisions we make may seem inconsequential, but when we think through consequence number 100+ of our decisions, we’ll realise that they go a long way. World-changing is everyone’s business because… well, everyone lives in the world and we are all stewards of this only home we have so far.

It may sound like the biggest cliche ever, but it is still true that making the world a better place starts and continues with each one of us. And if we consolidate and coordinate our efforts even in small communities, the impact we can create will be far more than what we can do alone.

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Schwab Social Entrepreneurs!

And speaking of creating bigger impact together…  

As always, we are working triple time to build R2R as a global brand that artisans can rely on as a viable and sustainable partner to help improve their lives. We have been doing this for 10 years and through all the challenges and little wins, you, our advocates, have been with us. You cheered us on, supported us, gave us valuable feedback, granted us second chances (and more), and created positive impact with us all these years. And we know that like us, you are in this for the long-haul.

Because we are in this together, we are sharing with you some of the things we are working on to create more positive impact. And if you have any ideas or partnership possibilities you could direct our way, we would be most joyful and grateful!

Here are a few of the partnerships and possibilities we are searching for:

  • International distribution through retailers (could be boutiques, chains of boutiques, etc.) in key countries around the world – while we probably won’t be able to supply all immediately, it would be great to get connected to markets for our current as well as future capacity and communities!
  • Partnerships with corporations that can include us and our artisans in their supply chains! We have done one-off partnerships with brands we love (like corporate gifts, etc.), but if ever there are chances to partner with companies for the long-term too, that would be awesome!
  • Partnerships with global brands and designers who can collaborate with us to create amazing products and put a spotlight on what our artisans can do
  • Partnerships with social enterprises and artisan-supportive brands from all over the Philippines and Asia to join our platform www.thingsthatmatter.ph, which is a joyful marketplace that creates positive impact and inspires an intentional lifestyle.

Ideas? Connections? Exciting possibilities? We are so excited to hear from you! Send me a note: reese.fernandez@rags2riches.ph.

 

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz

Schwab Social Entrepreneur 2013

Young Global Leader 2012

World Economic Forum

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