Day 2, Monday, 19 January, 2016

They say that the magic of the World Economic Forum at Davos happens in the corridors. It’s not necessarily the leaders you listen to on the staged panels. They are great and insightful, of course, but the real learning happens in the chance meetings in the corridors. Walking between events, taking the bus around town, sitting in a coffee shop. This is where you meet real people and learn their stories. For me, today was such a day.

Today I found myself in the shoes of a refugee, understanding the complexity of life in the Middle East and the trials people go through in order to survive. Meeting the Director of the Schwab Foundation of Social Entrepreneurship was insightful. I moderated a panel on ‘Peace and Progress’ with former US Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore. We were on the same train to Davos this morning, and he was kind enough to walk me through his work on the migrant crisis in Europe following the Syrian civil war and the exodus of North Africans across the Mediterranean Sea.

What struck me the most was the candid manner in which he spoke about human rights and how humanity has assumed rights over land, sea, air, and other resources. A roll of the dice decides our future and governs the manner in which we are treated forevermore. Why is it that the people who are being subjected to torture, abuse, violence, and bloodshed are being denied a safe haven in developed countries, and are instead being forced to follow lengthy processes to avail asylum? Why is it that we, in the West, believe that we are somehow superior to all others and erect rules and regulations to prevent others from enjoying the same rights and privileges that we allow ourselves?

Ironically, looking at past statistics of migration, it is the net movement of immigrants from the developing world into countries like the USA and the UK that has allowed those countries to build themselves up into the global powers they are today. More than 50% of all the patents filed in the USA are by individuals of Indian origin. People from foreign backgrounds staff around 40% of the National Health Service, a world champion provider of healthcare services. In Germany, businesses started by people of Turkish origin are increasing by 18% YoY, whereas those started by people of German background are reducing by 8% YoY. These are staggering numbers and only highlight some of the great examples of what immigrants’ ideas and energy bring to an ecosystem.

But, putting this economic argument aside, there is the question of being human. Aren’t we all the same? Shouldn’t we extend the same level of care and support to our fellow humans no matter which country’s passport they hold?

With all these ideas racing through my head, I sat down to lunch and sparked up a conversation with one of the bravest people I have ever met. A fellow WEF Global Shaper from Gaza in Palestine, she told me the story of her life back home, about the three wars she and her little brothers had to endure in the last five years. How their first words after “mummy” and “daddy” were “rocket” and “bomb”. Till that day she instinctively hid under a bed if she heard a large explosion, and the rolling sound of our suitcase wheels on the cobbled paths reminded her of gunfire and brought tears to her eyes.

She had lost so much, but yet has so much to offer. Her uncle and cousin were killed by the Israeli forces, but she still talks about peace and about her inner strength that is holding on to the hope that one day her family will be free and will live life normally again. All she wants to do is meet her girlfriends in a coffee shop and talk about normal life again, without fear of persecution and violence. The tunnels bringing in supplies from Egypt were closed off in 2013, and since then the 1.8 million people in Gaza have had to rely upon foreign aid and hand-me-downs.

Just imagine what it must be like to live each day like this. To not be allowed to leave your city and explore the world. To have only three hours of electricity each day, and to wonder each evening if the planes flying overhead will drop another bomb on your community. How is this human?

I am filled with a sense of gratitude for how lucky I am, for the freedoms I enjoy and the life I lead with my friends and family at home. But, the conversation also charged me with a sense of justice and the need to spread awareness among and engage with people who believe in maintaining the status quo. It was our great ancestors who stood up and walked out of the plains of Africa as humanity explored the world. We enjoyed these freedoms once before, when we were stewards of this planet and shared it all equally with each other and with nature. It is time we once again remembered our past and protected our future.

Dr. Marcus Ranney is Vice-President at RoundGlass Partners and a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum. He completed his Bachelors of Science and Medical degrees from University College Medical School in London. He has served as a medical officer in the Royal Air Force and at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for a shuttle mission to the International Space Station. Find him on Twitter at @docmranney.

Posted by The Indian Economist