Embedded Commitments

28 January 2006

The place to be on Friday night in Davos was the Kirchner Museum (confirming the view of the FT’s ‘Survival Guide to Davos’ published just before we all headed for these snowy climes). It was Google’s party night, and the vintage wines and champagnes flowed endlessly, competing for space with the battalions of oysters and extraordinary assortment of the world’s great cheeses. It is my third for the evening, following a meeting of social entrepreneurs hosted by the Schwab Foundation and sales.com, and another lavish gathering hosted by Coca Cola, where invited guests were gifted with rather pretty red blankets made of recycled coke bottles.

“Can you prove that corporate responsibility is good for business”, demanded an Alpha Male from Harvard Business School of me, and (more pertinent perhaps), “can you demonstrate that there is some good has come from the very existence of your organisation”. I muster my scant my Alpha genes and deliver a suitably staccato recitation of the evidence at hand.

Seems that I argue more with my friends than with those that I seek to influence. Sipping champagne, a rugged featured activist reflects, “last year the debate on poverty was almost theatrical, whereas this year it is more embedded, accepted as an integral part of the business agenda”. Caught unawares by such blinding optimism, I retort thoughtlessly, “nonsense, there are some business leaders here doing amazing things, but far more who declare their commitments, but disguise the realities of the tensions and trade offs that prevent these commitments being realised”. After all, I burble onwards, “the food and beverage sector might get together here and launch a micro-finance programme, but will they open themselves to exploring the links between their growing need for arable land to feed the global food market and the situation of communities historically dependent and now deprived of access to on land for farming, or access to scarce water resources”.

My conversationalist remains unimpressed and unconvinced, “things are definitely better this year”, he reasserts, “more people engaged in exploring practical things that can be done, less chatter”. Hmmm, why are we arguing this out, I wonder…is it healthy debate, fragmented solidarity or thoughtless strategies.

Shimon Peres takes the platform in one corner of the effervescent party. Peres, a most extraordinary person, delivers his carefully placed comments in his characteristically, resonant voice. His images of Iran, Hamas and Iraq create an eloquent, textured landscape punctuated with almost pungent, metaphoric imagery of Stalin and Hitler. His audience are silent, attentive and appreciative. But around us the party continues to throb, and fragmented conversations covering the pros and cons of the Audis over Saabs, and possible trajectories for Google’s share price waft uneasily into our tenderising exploration of possible nuclear futures and Islam’s confrontation with modernity.

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