As one of the newly selected 2012 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs, I had the privilege of attending the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting of New Champions in Tianjin, China last week. Throughout the week, I was struck by what can happen when the world’s most accomplished scientists, artists, academics, business and religious leaders, members of government, civil society, and media come together in an effort to solve our most pressing problems. The dynamic exchange of ideas encouraged an atmosphere of accelerated, creative problem solving.

Social enterprise inherently involves multi-sector collaboration, but during my first time attending the World Economic Forum I was continually reminded of how critical it is to actively seek out opportunities for convergence. While the networking that takes place at the World Economic Forum will no doubt prove invaluable to VisionSpring as we work towards addressing the enormous eyeglasses market failure in the developing world, I also learned a great deal about a wide variety of topics.

Here are some of the interesting facts I learned this week:

  • All six members of the Chinese politburo are engineers;
  • More people have cell phones than toilets;
  • The Catholic Church has a detailed plan on how to deal with aliens should they ever visit the earth;
  • China currently has 11 working people for every retiree, over the next 20 years this ratio will plummet to 2:8;
  • Japan already has a 2:1 ratio of working people to retirees, the average life expectancy for a Japanese woman is 86 years old;
  • Thanks to nanotechnology and its biological applications, scientists predict that within 100 years humans will be living to be 200 years old;
  • Scientists at CERN have discovered the final building block of all matter called the Higgs Boson particle;
  • The particle accelerator at CERN speeds up particles to 99.99% the speed of light, CERN has cameras that record the particle collision capturing 6 million images per second;
  • China’s Vice President Xi Jinping mysteriously disappeared last week;
  • There are nano-insulating materials in existence that can make your refrigerator 85% more energy efficient;
  • China has brought 300 million people out of poverty in the last 20 years which is unprecedented in world history;
  • By 2020, 57% of the world’s middle class will reside in the developing world;
  • In 2011, 20 countries in Africa had GDP growth of 5% or more;
  • About 75% of Fortune 500 companies are members of the World Economic Forum;
  • By 2015, 1 billion people will be banking on a mobile device generating $1 trillion in transactions;
  • Foldable cars will be commercially available within 5 years.

The conversations and interactions I had last week could not have occurred anywhere else and the experience opened my mind to new possibilities and different perspectives on how to solve the complex challenges facing the world today. For VisionSpring, our challenge is to sell 10 million pairs of glasses in the developing world over the next 10 years. I am coming back from China with new insights into how to accomplish this goal and new friends and partners who will help us advance our mission.

 

Author: Jordan Kassalow, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, VisionSpring, USA: Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2012

VisionSpring has developed several innovative models for bringing high-quality, affordable eyeglasses to customers in developing countries. Through mobile optical units, optical shops, and Vision Entrepreneurs, more than 1,040,000 pairs of eyeglasses have been sold.