By Neal Keny Guyer, Mercy Corps CEO, adapted from a letter sent to corporate partners
As someone who’s spent the last 30-odd years doing humanitarian work in some of the world’s toughest places, arriving at the World Economic Forum in Davos can shock the system. Cocktail parties. Private jets. Bono sightings. A gathering of “elites” to talk about business and politics. This year I came to Davos straight from the Central African Republic, a collapsing state that the world is mostly ignoring.
Rarified as this meeting is, Davos and gatherings like it advance peace and progress by bringing together business leaders, senior government officials and policymakers, and social-change advocates to tackle the biggest issues of our times: inequality, climate change, a sustainable economy, youth employment, Syria, peace in the Middle East. And there is not only talk; there is action.
As I met with other attendees, I reflected on some of the partners Mercy Corps works with—foundations and companies whose portfolios span emerging markets, fragile states and hard-to-reach places. We’re facing significant obstacles together, and our strategic partnerships are shifting the way solutions to complex social problems will be designed in years to come:
Building stability into the global food supply chain. In places like Guatemala, Colombia and Nicaragua, farmers grow the beans that make the world’s most exquisite coffee. But issues like plant disease, lack of financial literacy and falling global prices can leave farming families facing “lean” months where meals are few and far between. These issues are larger than any one group can handle. A new coalition including Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. and Starbucks is turning competitors into colleagues by combining resources and leveraging NGO and corporate expertise to work with smallholder farmers to find lasting solutions. This is one example of a trend towards integrating global food security, stable food production and sustainable environmental practices — a trend we expect will continue to grow in 2014.
Boosting entrepreneurship in the world’s toughest places. To reach Laputta Township in Myanmar, it’s an eight-hour truck ride from Yangon followed by a long boat ride. These distant, isolated villages are hard to reach but the shifting political and economic environment are making even the remotest villages more accessible to outside investment. To help small business owners and farmers earn more income for their families in the long-isolated region, Mercy Corps is working with MasterCard to train women in business and financial literacy giving them the tools and skills they need to start or expand a business—fueling economic development. We anticipate 2014 will see an explosion of growth around financial inclusion –with more than 2 billion people accessing needed financial services.
Helping youth build skills and opening doors to jobs. Providing workforce skills without connections to meaningful job prospects can leave youth more frustrated than before. Today, 73 million youth worldwide are looking for work. Meanwhile, corporations are finding few prospective employees with the skills they need. In Nigeria, we’ve partnered with The Coca–Cola Company’s 5by20 program to match the right mix of life skills and education for marginalized girls with real opportunities to participate in the economy.
The boundaries are blurring – between public and private, between for-profit and not-for-profit, between the global north and global south.
Still, in today’s world, the solutions to our biggest challenges require partnership – across sectors, among stakeholders and throughout society. These partnerships will be leveraged by technology and innovation and fuelled by the power of markets and private investment.
Our world faces enormous challenges. We need all the positive energy we can muster, from the wisdom of traditional village leaders to the community at Davos to make our world more secure, sustainable and just.