The Words of the Caprara Family

Washington, DC Partner Event Highlights the Promise of a New Age of Social Entrepreneurs

David Caprara
May 11, 2010

In his June 2009 speech in Cairo, U.S. President Obama pledged to host a Summit on Entrepreneurship to broaden and deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world. On April 26-27 the Department of State and the Department of Commerce jointly hosted the Summit at the Ronald Reagan International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

In response to a State Department call for partner organizations to support the President's Summit, on April 28 nearly one hundred leading social entrepreneurs attended a partnering event in Washington sponsored jointly by IBM, Building Bridges Coalition, and the Global Peace Service Alliance. The event, which included a number of delegates from the Summit, explored new avenues of collaboration between governments, the corporate world, and civil society organizations. Only through such collaboration, noted a range of speakers, can the endemic structural problems that deprive billions of people of basic necessities of food and water, health care, security, and dignity be effectively met.

The partnering event, "Global Service and Social Entrepreneurship: Advancing the President's Call in Cairo with Multi-lateral Cooperation through NGO and Corporate Initiatives," included live "Tweets" -- comments, links for further information, and real-time encouragement for some of the speakers -- which were projected on-screen as well as across the Twitter network, highlighting the growing interactivity and instantaneous global reach of new social media.

Moderator Miriam Parel, an advisor with the Global Peace Festival Foundation, greeted participants, which included a number of representatives of the White House Summit, then introduced Timothy Shriver, chairman and CEO of the Special Olympics. Shriver paid warm tribute to his renowned parents, Sargent Shriver and

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, whose "faith in everyday people, deep distrust of 'experts' who produce evidence on why things can't be done, and energy and optimism in the face of ambiguity and frustration," he said, are models for a new generation of social entrepreneurs.

Citing the achievements of his father, whose efforts led to the founding of the Peace Corps, Shriver said that "this is a time when young people are more ready than ever. They don't want to own religious animosities, racial animosities, or age old hatreds" and have come of age in a world where these inherited attitudes are weakening.

Azhar Hussain, Senior Vice President for Preventative Diplomacy at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD), recounted his personal experiences in bringing renewal, modernization, and greater capacity to

Despite many Western stereotypes of these religious schools, Hussain said he witnessed many schools where young girls gathered every day to study together without teachers or even textbooks. The ICRD's mission, he said, was to revitalize curricula and pedagogy, build capacity, and advance teacher certification so that students and teachers could create ownership of their educational futures.

Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Harris Wofford was saluted by many present for his career in advancing public service, as an advocate for the establishment of the Peace Corps, chair of America's Promise, and CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Remarking humorously that the current gathering was proof that independent-minded social entrepreneurs "flock like eagles," Senator Wofford particularly emphasized the role of women as agents of change.

"While in Africa in the Peace Corps," he said, "I concluded that independent women who had taken on roles as teachers was the beginning of a revolution," and he noted with appreciation that President Barack Obama in his speech at Cairo similarly stressed the importance of women serving as volunteers in regions where women often lack opportunity.

Stanley Litow, the President of IBM International Foundation, emphasized that volunteerism needs to be embedded in the workplace, not only because it enriches communities but because it improves skills and makes better employees. IBM, which employs more than 400,000 people worldwide with a presence in 170 countries, encourages its employees to serve through a number of initiatives. IBM's Corporate Service Corps provides access to free resources and business consulting in finance, marketing, business planning, and technology in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe. Litow said IBM had recently signed an agreement with USAID to advance a "corporate version of the Peace Corps," offering 500 top leaders the chance to work in the developing world to help government and NGOs grown local economies and build services.

"Corporations need the full partnership of NGOs, governments, universities, and civic organizations," he said. "The real Holy Grail is to create a platform where all can work together effectively." IBM and the Global Peace Service Alliance recently concluded an agreement at the November 2009 Global Peace Convention in the Philippines to provide technology and development assistance in that country.

Another model highlighted was the sponsorship of young social entrepreneurs from the developing world to come to the United States to learn skills and build networks that can then be deployed at home. Becky Gitonga is a Kenyan social entrepreneur currently serving as an Atlas Corps fellow with U.S. based Service For Peace. She discussed her experience working in some of Africa's most impoverished slums and described her immersion in social networking as a cutting-edge development that can give a voice to everyday people and be a catalyst for change. She noted how social media was used in Kenya to report outbreaks of violence following the disputed presidential elections in 2007.

Global Peace Service Alliance (GPSA) Executive Director Charles Phillips then announced that with this partner event, GPSA is rolling out a social media platform to facilitate conversations among social entrepreneurs around the world. The goal will be to forge a global social entrepreneurship coalition that will address critical issues through innovation and awareness of the power of faith as a motivation for social change. This enterprise will be launched at the 2010 Global Peace Convention in Nairobi, Kenya.

Global Peace Festival Foundation Vice President David Caprara added that the Convention, scheduled for November 17-19 in Nairobi, was a culminating event that follows regional Global Peace Festivals in Nepal, Indonesia, and the Philippines, and he encouraged participation in this world-level convening of peace-builders from every continent.

Questions and remarks came from representatives of many distinguished organizations, including USAID, the Peace Corps, Partners of the Americas, U.S. Center for Citizen Diplomacy, Echoing Green Foundation, the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty, the Islamic Society of North America, Ashoka, as well as delegates from the State Department Summit.

Building Bridges Coalition also announced that NGOs, faith-based groups, universities and corporations, National Peace Corps Association, and the International Volunteering Initiative at Brookings Institution have joined forces to expand the ServiceNation success in scaling domestic volunteering to the international level with increased innovation and impact. The Service World initiative will couple international service policy development with a broad-based civic engagement campaign timed with 2010-2011 initiatives commemorating the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps and the UN tenth anniversary of the International Year of Volunteers. 

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