Kings, presidents, chief executive officers. Some rock stars, a few world-renowned artists. These are the headliners of the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland.
Yet there is one contingent that flies below the radar. This group may be among the most interesting, dynamic and fascinating of the more than 2,500 dignitaries flooding this tiny Swiss ski town.
These people are the only ones attending from their nation. The United States has about 675 representatives. Switzerland and the United Kingdom have about 250 each. But Bolivia? Only one person. Algeria? One. Hungary? Just one. Afghanistan? Yes, just one attendee.
By my count, there were 23 countries with only one person in attendance at Davos. What does it feel like to be the only person from your country at the World Economic Forum?
There is one thing that makes these singletons stand out: Many are people who have shown great promise to become the next high-ranking politicians, executives or government officials. Most of them are part of two special constituencies. The first is the Global Shapers, a community of leaders from around the world, all of whom are between 20 and 30 years old. The second is the Young Global Leaders, also a community of young leaders under the age of 40, nominated from around the world. This alone makes them particularly bright and fresh faces at an organisation known for its long-established networks.
Also, for many of them, this is their first time attending the WEF’s annual meeting in Davos, so they arrived with real excitement, expectations and curiosity.
Among this special group: People like Eduardo A Cruz, from the Dominican Republic, who is the president and chief executive officer of ARS Humano, SA, a private health insurance company. Amod Rajbhandari, from Nepal, is chief investment officer of the Mercantile Group of Companies. Shakir Azizi, from Afghanistan, is the founder and CEO of Boost Educational, Cultural and Research Organization.
Weight of a nation?
Delegations of one said they feel some sense of responsibility, not only to represent themselves or their organisations, but also to represent their countries.
Jacqueline Musiitwa, Legal Counsel and Assistant to the President and Chief Executive Officer, PTA Bank, the only Zambian at Davos, said it is inevitable she will be an "ambassador" of sorts — but not just for her own country.
“Based on the low participation of Africans in general, I feel like a ‘brand Africa’ ambassador,” she said in an email, although she added that the nations can’t easily be lumped together. But Musiitwa also sees herself representing another group: “Based on the low number of women at Davos, I equally feel like I'm an ambassador for women,” she said.
Amod Rajbhandari of Nepal said that being a voice for an entire nation when other countries have hundreds of delegates isn’t a challenge. “[It’s] a unique opportunity of being the only one to represent my country in such a prestigious event,” he said. “Nepal is a country that has faced many political, economic and social problems, but, my goal in this trip is to highlight the myriad of opportunities that exist in my country in all sectors, be it social impact, infrastructure development, agriculture and business.”
Afhganistan’s Azizi does feel the challenge of speaking “the language of a nation, the idea of a nation, the problems and progress of the nation from each and every sector,” he said. “I think the forum should invite more Afghans to the meeting.”
It’s one thing for businesspeople and civic leaders to attend as onlies, but what about a leader in government? Igor Luksic the deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Montenegro saw his singular attendance as a networking opportunity like no other.
“Small countries, such as Montenegro, need to use every opportunity to make themselves visible in order to promote their interests,” he said. “[This] is definitely one of the top places to be in the world.”
Giving and getting
For the singleton attendees who are also first timers, there’s more to be gained: Access and insight.
“I want to use this opportunity to meet and learn from the people leading some of the most influential countries, companies and institutions in the world,” said Rajbhandari. He hopes to learn about social impact projects that have been successful in other countries in improving the “lives of people” and he hopes to apply those ideas to Nepal, he said. Because Rajbhandari is also am executive at the Mercantile Group of Companies, he said he hopes to learn about new business and growth strategies to take home.
Azizi, who worked as a journalist in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for seven years before starting a non-governmental organisation in 2011, hopes his access to the world’s leaders and thinkers will allow him to share his perspective and present the problems and issues around Afghanistan.
And Luksic, of Montenegro, sees opportunity in access. “I believe there is a significant window of opportunities to make things happen after years of economic stagnation” in the country and the region, he said.
Editor’s note: This story was corrected on 2 February, 2015. The quotes attributed to Lebogang Keolebogile Maruapula in paragraphs 9 and 10 should have been attributed to Jacqueline Musiitwa.
Lucy Marcus is an award winning writer, board chair and non-executive director of several organisations. She is also the CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting.
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