World Economic Forum Special Report

CEOs 'Struggle for Survival' at Davos

'Struggle for Survival' participant Paul Bulcke, CEO of Nestle
Moritz Hager | Flickr

Just down the road from the Davos Congress Center, the globe's movers and shakers can be thrust into the real-life problems affecting some of the poorest areas in the world.

The Hong Kong-based Crossroads Foundation is offering World Economic Forum attendees the opportunity to experience, for a brief time, an up-close and personal encounter with poverty through its "Struggle for Survival" program.

"The old proverb says, 'You cannot understand a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes,'" said Sally Begbie, the foundation's director. "We cannot offer participants a 'mile,' but, through Struggle for Survival, we can invite them to take a few steps in the shoes of those battling poverty."

Participants are asked to attend a short briefing where they learn in detail what it is like to live without seemingly essential needs. These examples come from those who have lived it first hand.

CEOs 'Struggle for Survival'

"What we're looking for is strategic partnerships that can empower people doing what a company is best at, and bringing it to a community that needs that," Begbie said.

Following a briefing, participants are brought to a basement that's set up to look like the slums of a struggling nation. There, they are taught how to make paper bags and asked to sell them to store owners. If they don't sell enough – they are yelled at, asked to sell their children, any jewelry or anything of value on them to make enough money to live off of. Although the simulation is short, those running the program believe it's effective.

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"It's simulation designed by people who live in poverty themselves, alongside NGO workers who are assisting them, partnering with them, and they guide us as to what the real thing is like and the desperate choices people really have to make," Begbie said.

In similar scenarios run by the Crossroads Foundation at previous World Economic Forums and throughout the world high-profile attendees including Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Management Ltd, Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg have experienced simulations first hand.

The goal isn't to raise money, but awareness. It's something that Nestle's CEO Paul Bulcke was eager to see first hand, understanding his role as a CEO and the power those like him hold to make a difference.

"This is a basic concept, how can you talk about certain things if you don't know or understand them, and it is not only rational," Bulcke said. As he points to his head and heart, he added: "It is not only here, but it is here, and I would say that is what this program does."

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