William Kramer

Report from the Tallberg Forum

Tallberg, Sweden. Monday August 1, 7:10 pm

Your intrepid correspondent is pulling tough duty by a lake three hours northwest of Stockholm, attending a conference (badly) titled “How on earth can we live together?” The conference, organized by the Tallberg Forum (www.tallbergfoundation.org), is delivering much more than the title promised, which is what I expected, and why I took the time to come.

There are a lot of very smart and accomplished people gathered here to address not just the “big” questions, but a lot of down to earth practical ones, too. Several highlights from the first few days:

1. An opening speech by Bo Ekman, an old hand from Volvo who started this Forum 25 years ago, who started by saying, “The verdict of history may be that this generation will have proved better at living separately than together” — which puts the title into a bit better light. His contention is that globalization, as principally an economic process is leaving us badly unprepared to deal with the outfalls, particularly the social, political, and ethical. But, as the events unfolding are largely of our own making, he suggests that we ought to be able to unmake them. Quoting Gandhi, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” he linked that thought to another of his own — “Each step counts when you walk the talk.” A reasonable set of ideas that do inform our approach to business engagement in low-income communities. Another major take-away from his talk was also to reaffirm something I already knew , that the power of music and imagery to reinforce words and ideas is awfully strong. Ekman invoked some powerful moments from recent history, particularly the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989, showing stirring pictures of the actual process in conjunction with the final pasages of Beethoven’s 7th symphony — the piece played in Berlin the evening after the Wall came down. I admit to be susceptible to this stuff, but it had me in tears.

2. A panel chaired by anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, which included Washington-based activist Zainab Salbi (Women for Women International: www.womenforwomen.org). Salbi spoke powerfully about how the treatment of women is a leading indicator of the state, and direction, of a society. Quick quote, with I think of bit of tongue in cheek, but not too much: “why microfinance for women, and factories for men?” On a more serious note, she described her work with women who are raped, tortured, and killed in conflict after conflict, and her organization’s efforts to mitigate these horrors.

3. A presentation by Janine Benyus (www.biomimicry.net), “How Life Works” in which she catalogued some of the extraordinarily exciting developments in efforts to understand and mimic natural processes and harness them to create useful new products inexpensively, efficiently, and at scale. I felt at the time that her address might be the most profound I would hear at the conference. Exciting stuff. Go take a look; we are certainly going to look hard at the technologies and the companies beginning to pursue their promise in connection with the ability, for example, to create vaccines that do not require refrigeration, but can be made and delivered at ambient temperature. A major deal for the BOP.

4. A funny and effective and important review of what statistics do, and do not, tell us about development by Hans Rosling, of the Karolinksa Institute here in Sweden. Go to www.gapminder.org for the story, and a view of what I consider absolutely the best illustration of the visual presentation of quantitative data ever produced. Amazing and instructive. I am not sure, based on his 30 minute presentation, that the whole story is there (it may be, but I can’t say) but just for the ingenuity and creativity of presentation, your time will be well spent, I guarantee it.

Enough for now. More to come.