Taking It Global

October 29, 2010

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Frank Sesno, John Snow, Steven Lerman, W. Russell Ramsey, Steven Knapp, Carlos Slim, Elisabeth Preval and Anwar Gargash poses before The George Washington University Global Forum 2010 at the Waldorf Astoria in New York, NY on October 29, 2010. Ben Solomon

Carlos Slim, John W. Snow and Elisabeth Preval speak at GW’s second annual Global Forum.

“Keep doing what you’re doing,” First Lady Michelle Obama said at GW’s Commencement on the National Mall last May. “Just take it global.”

The GW Global Forum, which began with a video that included a clip from the First Lady’s commencement address, did precisely that—examining a global perspective on a variety of topics, including the financial crisis and women’s issues.

The forum, which was held yesterday and today at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, drew more than 200 attendees from as far as Singapore, Taiwan, China and the Dominican Republic. About 180 people attended a networking session last night.

“At GW, we deeply understand that education in this century must be global,” said Provost Steven Lerman at the beginning of the forum. “There is something very special happening at GW.”

GW President Steven Knapp cited several examples of GW faculty and students who reflected the university’s global focus, including Presidential Administrative Fellow, alumna and graduate student Anna Phillips, who founded a soccer program for Ugandan women, and Amb. Edward W. “Skip” Gnehm Jr., B.A. ’66, M.A. ’68, Kuwait professor of Gulf and Arabian Peninsula affairs and director of GW’s Middle East Policy Forum, who recently hosted a joint conference at the Elliott School of International Affairs with Oman.

Dr. Knapp also recognized Elisabeth Preval, M.B.A. ’88, first lady of Haiti and a parent of a GW student and one of the speakers at the forum. 

“Being at George Washington University as a student really places you at the front row of the theater of history,” Dr. Knapp said.

In the first session of the day, Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs, interviewed two newsmakers: Carlos Slim, recipient of the university’s President’s Medal and chairman of Grupo Carso and of Instituto Carlos Slim de la Salud; and John W. Snow, J.D. ’67, former U.S. secretary of the treasury.

In order to repair the global financial crisis, governments need to be reduced in favor of growth in civil society and the private sector, Mr. Slim said, dismissing much of the legislation thus far as “only temporary medicine” which doesn’t solve the problem.

The U.S. government needs to start selling some of its assets, and retirement age should be pushed to 75 as people tend to live longer, Mr. Slim said.

Mr. Slim, who announced that his foundation is working with Peter Hotez, Walter G. Ross Professor and chair of GW’s Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Tropical Medicine, said there is an association between disease and poverty, which he said was the number one problem he hopes to fix.

Instead of pledging to give away half of their wealth as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have called for, philanthropists should focus on what is necessary to fix specific problems, Mr. Slim said. “Charity doesn’t solve poverty.”

Mr. Snow disagreed with Mr. Slim on the target retirement age of 75, but he agreed about the large scope of the global financial problems. He called the 2 percent growth in the U.S. GDP “pathetic.” If growth continues at that rate, the unemployment rate in the U.S. will be 12 percent by 2020, he said.

“I’ve never seen a gap between potential and actual GDPs as today,” he said.

To fix the problem, the government needs to avoid raising taxes and increasing spending, and it needs to look at Medicare and see if it is affordable, he said. Mr. Snow said many patients are encouraged to receive extra medical tests, because they aren’t paying for it anyway. “We don’t see the costs, so we over-consume,” he said.

During her keynote lunch address, First Lady Preval focused on the challenges facing Haitians today from the continuing impact of the earthquake to a recent cholera outbreak. She noted that representatives of several universities—including GW, which she said is “global and connected to the real problems of the world”—gathered in Haiti during the past week to brainstorm about ways to improve higher education in Haiti. 

“I have to express my deep gratitude to George Washington for its constant and growing effort to support the reconstruction process of Haiti and the awareness you give to Haitian problems and opportunities,” she said. “The concern you have expressed goes beyond the spectrum of your own specific country and region and embraces the perspective of the planet.”

Other speakers at the event included: GW parents Anwar Gargash, B.A. ’81, M.A. ’84, United Arab Emirates  minister of state for foreign affairs; Raj Jain, president of Walmart India; and Zain Naqi, B.B.A.  ’82, managing partner of ZAN Partners; Heike Niebergall, L.L.M.  ’03, senior legal officer for the International Organization for Migration; Cagatay (Chaatai) Ozdogru, M.S.  ’91, CEO of ESAS Holdings; and GW deans Michael E. Brown (Elliott School), Lynn Goldman (School of Public Health and Health Services) and Doug Guthrie (School of Business); and Barbara Miller, an associate dean at the Elliott School. 

According to Jim Core, M.A. ’96, president-elect of the board of directors of the GW Alumni Association, the GW Global Forum brings a very important story about what’s happening at GW to alumni.

“The university is capturing thought leaders and business leaders from around the world, who are choosing to share their time and talent with the university,” he said.

Christopher Fussner, B.A. ’79, president of TransTechnology and a member of the International Council at the Elliott School of International Affairs, came to the forum from Singapore, where he lives.

Though he has other business in America, and his sister lives in the U.S., he so appreciated the “quality of the speakers” at last year’s forum that he was happy to return.

“I’d make a special trip to London to go to one,” he said. “In one day they have so many speakers. If you look at today’s agenda? Amazing!”

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