Leading figures in microfinance and geo-strategy spoke at the University of Central Florida Tuesday as part of the annual Central Florida Global Economic Forum.
“Redefining Competition in the 21st Century” was organized by the UCF Global Perspectives Office.
The opening keynote address was presented by Alex Counts, president and CEO of Grameen Foundation, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that reduces poverty through the use of technology and microfinance.
Counts, the author of “Small Loans, Big Dreams,” trained under Muhammad Yunus, a renowned Bangladeshi economist and co-recipient of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. It was through his work with Yunus in Bangladesh that Counts realized “the discipline of business is a powerful tool for social change.”
Now, the Grameen Foundation touches one in three Bangladeshi families, with more than 8 million clients and $1 billion in loans. Counts said Grameen uses the operations in Bangladesh as a basis for a global model that can be adapted and used by other micro-lenders.
Counts is encouraged by the smart financing of female investors in Bangladesh. He said if profits are realized, women are more likely to reinvest the money in their businesses or apply it toward the nutrition, health and education of their children. That way, the next generation will not have to live in impoverished conditions similar to those of their parents.
The closing keynote was given by Parag Khanna, a leading geo-strategist and senior research fellow at the New America Foundation. He is the author of two best-selling books, “The Second World” and “How to Run the World.”
Khanna’s presentation focused on the 21st century’s emerging geopolitical marketplace, led by the United States, China and Europe.
He spoke about diplomacy and how it is a process for creating the framework by which nations interact. Khanna said diplomacy is not limited to government interactions, and the rise of non-governmental organizations, philanthropists and even terrorists is becoming a part of how we build and understand the world.
Khanna pointed to the current situation in the Middle East, which he said has been plagued with generations of decay, a lack of infrastructure investment, exploding population growth, insufficient innovation and succession crises.
Similar challenges to existing order arose in countries such as Egypt and Libya, and Khanna expects dozens more to develop.
Nevertheless, Khanna said, we must not fear geopolitics, border conflicts and evolution, as they are all inevitable in the international arena. It is for all these reasons that the United Nations now has about 200 members, almost double what it started with more than 65 years ago, he said.
Khanna predicts that a new diplomacy will emerge as a coalition between the public and non-state groups. Official diplomacy should be about convening talent and harnessing resources from all players, not just the government, he said.
“Credibility from diplomacy can no longer come from just talking,” Khanna said.
In addition to the Global Perspectives Office and the Global Connections Foundation, sponsors and partners included the UCF College of Business Administration, Lawrence J. Chastang and the Chastang Foundation, C.T. Hsu and Associates, CPH Engineers Inc., the UCF China-Taiwan Cross-Strait Program, The India Program at UCF, The Anil and Chitra Deshpande India Program Endowed Fund, LarsonAllen LLP, Junior Achievement of Central Florida Inc., the UCF Political Science Department, the UCF Office of Diversity Initiatives, the UCF International Services Center and UCF LIFE.