The Other Davos

When the One Young World conference begins tomorrow, Pittsburgh will play host to the largest international gathering other than the Olympics or the United Nations — with emerging leaders from nearly 200 countries sharing ideas about global solutions.

This event is sure to be overshadowed here in the U.S. by anticipation of third debate and intense media coverage of our presidential election. But the sheer size of One Young World– 1,500 delegates between 19- and 24-years-old — makes this mini-Davos a major event. And when Bill Clinton delivers the keynote speech tomorrow, reportedly including a Q&A with some of the delegates, there’s sure to be campaign news out of Pittsburgh.

But the real story here is about what the young future leaders will be talking about after the spotlight that accompanies a former president fades away: the role of global business in health care, sustainable food production, ethical business and international cooperation.

And surely some business will be transacted during One Young World, which is sponsored by the global advertising group Havas. The CEO David Jones, co-founder of One Young World, helped elect David Cameron Prime Minister. He’ll be joined by a group of international leaders including celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, new Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan among others.

The fact that an advertising company is behind a this kind of conference with international impact tells us something about what CEOs looking to the future think they need to do in a globalized world. Jones is clearly focused on the next generation of decision-makers. Earlier this year he also published “Who Cares Wins” — a book that describes why doing business in the era of social media means making a commitment to customers that’s more substantive than the old paradigm of simply saying the right thing but then conducting business as usual.

One Young World is annual event, and this is the first time the conference is being held in the United States. There’s something fitting about an international conference of this size — that will empower young adults to innovate and compete abroad — occurring here during the presidential election season when Americans turn reflexively inward. Even as our world becomes firmly interconnected, requiring cross-border cooperation to solve problems and grow economies, we too often remain mentally isolated from the rest of the globe.

Whoever wins the presidential election will find himself governing in an inter-connected world where listening to our overseas partners and competitors is more critical than ever. That doesn’t mean doing what they want. Rather, that means paying attention to their needs so we can achieve our needs. Conferences like One Young World provide an important forum for bringing the world closer together.

Let’s just make sure that we here in the U.S. don’t lose site of the fact the rest of the world is working together to learn and change even as we fight the same old fight that happens every four years.