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Posted at 12:20 PM ET, 01/28/2011

White badge wonder

By Trevor Richard Dougherty

British Council Global Changemakers is a network of young social entrepreneurs and community activists from 110 countries worldwide.

It is hard to forget the firm grip of a handshake with a head of state.

On Thursday, my second day at the World Economic Forum, I had the privilege to meet South African President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton. These brief encounters all took place during official sessions of the Forum, confirming the notion that the "big names" are accessible to participants at Davos.

But not just any participants.

I am the holder of a white badge, the coveted top tier of the Forum's credentialing hierarchy. It gives me access to almost all of the Congress Centre, and supposedly affords me the same "credibility" as the executives who pay upwards of $50,000 for the privilege of wearing it. In a small way it addresses the skepticism of those who wonder what my freckled young face is doing at an event better known for its old people. But this ID system also fuels a culture of badge-lookers who zoom in on the names and company affiliations printed on badges, and rapidly decide whether or not you are worthy of their precious networking time, before introducing themselves.

Perhaps this limits the number of meaningful connections we can make. While I have sought out specific well-known industry leaders for conversation and advice, they are in high demand and rarely give the average Forum participant the time of day. I have gained far more from meeting people coincidentally (on shuttle buses, for example), as everyone here, famous or not, is a leader in their field.

My white badge has given me so much access that I take for granted the company I'm keeping. Today, on a bathroom break, I noticed Professor Schwab - founder of the Forum - finishing his business at the urinal next to mine. Ten minutes later I was watching him interview Bill Clinton on the stage in the Congress Hall.

Still, I wish we could put away the badges when we're not using them. As Nik Gowing said during the live BBC World Debate on global leadership, they make us look like we're all "at a camp" and perhaps distract us from the people we should be meeting.

So, participants, try to drop your badge-checking habits. Invest a minute in what could turn out to be a surprisingly productive relationship.

Trevor has been an online activist since 2007. He is one of CNN's top citizen journalists, as about 100 of his "iReports" have been broadcast as part of the network's global news coverage. He is also a YouTube partner and the youngest person ever to have moderated the YouTube homepage as a "guest editor." A particularly empowered member of the Millennial Generation, Trevor has been harnessing the Internet's power in creating social change through "viral" outreach. His videos have been viewed over 3 million times by people in at least 100 countries. In 2008, he organized the world's largest human peace sign in Upstate New York, bringing 6,000 people together largely through targeted Facebook advertising and a low-budget online video clip. He finished high school in Swaziland, Southern Africa, affirming his belief that Internet access needs to be established as a right -- not a privilege -- for young people worldwide. Trevor will begin his tertiary education in the United States in fall 2011.

Return to the Insiders' Guide to Davos 2011 page

By Trevor Richard Dougherty  | January 28, 2011; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Trevor Richard Dougherty  
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