May / June 2007
MIT has a long history of interactions with the World Economic Forum. In a 2006 Institute faculty meeting I described our intentions for the January 2007 Davos meeting and promised a report on it. Here it is.
In January 2007, MIT decided to heighten its profile at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. A small faculty planning group was constituted and the decision was to focus on energy, bio-technology, and robotics.
MIT’s participation in Davos included a private MIT dinner and an alumni/guests reception which drew 80 guests. The private dinner consisted of a panel of three MIT faculty presenting their research in disruptive energy technologies. Prof. Angela Belcher presented her research on energy storage, Prof. Vladimir Bolovich talked about photovoltaic fiber, and Prof. Greg Stephanopoulos presented the challenges in turning biomass to ethanol. The panel was introduced by MIT President Susan Hockfield and emceed by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. We had 60 guests and excellent press coverage. In describing the session, Time Magazine’s editor-at-large, Eric Pooley, wrote: “At a certain point during this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting…the gusts of self regard became a little too much to bear…. Fortunately…something came along to remind me what Davos is good for.” (To enjoy a great coverage of MIT, see the full article at: www.time.com/world/article/0,8599,1582504,00.html .)
In addition to the dinner, Prof. Angela Belcher participated in a panel session on local energy solutions and gave a briefing on nature’s power solutions. Prof. Rodney Brooks gave a briefing on robotics, moderated a briefing on reverse engineering the brain, and participated on panels on the human lifespan and on the factors that shape identity. Prof. Linda Griffith gave a briefing on creating new body parts and participated on a panel on stem cells with Prof. Tyler Jacks. Prof. Jacks also gave a progress report, in a two-speaker panel, about the progress in the fight against cancer. Prof. Susan Lindquist gave a briefing on engineering simple cells and participated on a panel on genetic screening.
Other MIT faculty participated on panels and in sessions related to their areas of expertise, including Prof. Esther Duflo, Prof. Kristin Forbes, Prof. Fred Moavenzadeh, Prof. Nick Negroponte, and Prof. Yossi Sheffi. In all, 13 faculty members attended the WEF annual meeting.
President Hockfield had 11 one-on-one meetings with senior corporate executives, five meetings with donor prospects, and a meeting with a senior U.S. government official. She also participated in four panel discussions and 15 events/receptions.
The effects of MIT’s imprint on the Davos meeting are, naturally, not easy to measure. The Institute was featured in six news articles, four of which covered the disruptive energy technologies dinner. The attending faculty had multiple opportunities to interact with very high level industry and government officials. Some of these meetings bore short term fruits in starting or deepening relationships while others have already helped to generate funds for MIT projects. The effects of the faculty contacts and meetings in Davos is likely to also show up in future support for the Institute as well as support for individual labs and centers. The importance of MIT’s participation in this conference is that it provides a unique opportunity for the highest level of networking and relationship initiation and nurturing, as well as in the continued branding of MIT.
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