The forum for a better world

World leaders pleasantly surprised to discover Jewish and Arab volunteers work together.

Eli Beer 311 (photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Eli Beer 311
(photo credit: MELANIE LIDMAN)
Many people think the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is like the United Nations, where politicians and other decision makers gather to speak. Not many know that the WEF, launched as a nonprofit organization in 1971 by Klaus and Hilde Schwab, is something completely different: a place where people come to listen.
This year was my second time in Davos. Last year I was a newcomer, surprised by the amazing atmosphere, the number of different talented, successful and, even more importantly, interested and involved men and women who are truly there contribute to the communities of the world: to (please, forgive me for the cliche) make a difference.
Among the 2,500 people gathered at Davos every year are successful businesspeople and politicians. But about 10 percent of the participants are not invited because of their fortune or financial success. They are the scientists, the social entrepreneurs and the aptly named Young Global Leaders – among them, me. While I feel a bit uncomfortable with the title, it is truly a unique opportunity for people like me – who want to promote a cause, who want to gather advice and get people interested in their project.
In my case, that’s the emergency first-response organization that I started, United Hatzalah.
Among hundreds of shorter and longer meetings, I had the chance to talk to Bill Gates. It was such an honor to see him getting interested in the idea of a community-based firstresponse organization. He understood the importance of it and the opportunities lying with it: a lifesaving model that does not need significant equipment, that is scalable and implementable anywhere on the world. He was happy to hear that we are not planning to keep the model to ourselves but are ready and willing to share it with whoever is interested.
And many were. I met with people from Lithuania, Brazil, India and China, who understood how a Hatzalah-like emergency first-response team could benefit their communities.
How people can help their own neighbors with the help of United Hatzalah’s unique GPS system and, of course, a few motorcycles.
I met with several leaders from the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Lebanon – who were pleasantly surprised when I told them how our Jewish and Arab volunteers work together for the greater purpose: to save lives. Many said I taught them something about Israel they didn’t know before.
The culmination of the forum for me was the Friday dinner, with kosher food and more than 240 participants, where the head of JPMorgan Chase, Jacob Frenkel, said the kiddush and Stuart Eizenstat gave the dvar Torah. At the table sat President Shimon Peres, who is about to turn 90 but is younger in spirit than all of us. I felt truly privileged to be there, to greet Shabbat in such outstanding company.
We talked about the issues we face; about the problems we need to solve; about how what makes us unique does not have to be what keeps us apart. The underlying human goals and needs can bring us together.
I would like to thank again Mr. and Mrs. Schwab, the outstanding couple who made all this possible – who, in a way, are responsible for all the good that comes about at these occasions.
As for me, the search for the next Nobel Peace Prize winner should stop right now. We have the winners already.
Eli Beer is founder and president of United Hatzalah.