Shortly after arriving in Zurich – hopeful, inspired and ready to host our panel.

Participating at the WHT side event to the World Economic Forum, was about first; being inspired, second; overcoming fears and prejudices and third; opening my heart to a hope in a better future.

Being inspired.

The preparation process was an incredibly nurturing learning experience. We were asked to combine our personal stories with a subject we felt passionately about, by doing this I got to know better some of my fellow scholars and alumni. I was inspired to hear from Ramon and Atherton who at early ages lost one or both parents and have devoted their lives to improving conditions of education in Mexico and health access in Africa, in a bid to do justice to the legacy of their beloved ones. I also learnt of the struggle of my fellow scholar and friend, Dana, who has decided to work towards women empowerment in Jordan; She explained to us the paradox of women not taking part of the workforce despite having equal or even better qualifications. Kapil, June and Cedric described their encounters with environmental degradation and poverty in rural India, Kenya and Zimbabwe, and how that pushed them to act. Irina told us how she has always been an environmental entrepreneur, from her upbringings in Vladivostok to her current work through a company she co-founded, Carbon Engineering.

Prior to our trip, we met in London to practice and receive advice from communication experts at AGL. Just hearing these stories and those of the rest of the team, interacting and learning from each other, made me feel inspired and humbled. Going to Davos was almost secondary to this, but it put us together and made us pour honesty and passion into words.

Overcoming fears and prejudice.

Sharing a message from Venezuela with leaders from across the globe!

The World Economic Forum at Davos is a controversial place, particularly for those who, like me, are conscious that lock-in into our unsustainable development paths is easily traceable to decisions of those attending this event. Furthermore, those of us suffering from the all too common Oxford disease – the impostor syndrome – are still coming to terms with the shock of leaving our demanding developing world surroundings to be immersed in the stimulating and at times overbearing Oxford environment. We frequently ask ourselves if we belong in this ‘hotspot’ of world intellectuals? Imagine, only to be invited to Davos? What role could we possibly play there?

I found that there was a genuine interest in listening to ‘real and fresh’ young speakers. I also found that there is not one Davos, but multiple ones, with different levels of access and with buzzing events taking place at multiple locations where stimulating conversations take place. My prejudice was in finding ‘self-patting’, accomplished leaders, that were unwilling to lead the transformations required at the local level. However, although I cannot generalize from my experience, I can say that the atmosphere at the WHT event was of conscious philanthropists and leaders across sectors who wished to be challenged and were willing to take risk and invest in change. . .

Hope in a better future.

On returning to Oxford, here with my fellow WHT Scholar, Laura Aristizabal, and another Oxford Grad student who joined in solidarity to call for democratic transition in Venezuela.

My whole pitch for the event was coming from anger and disappointment. I feel that the world is failing on climate action and this is accompanied by a sense of disappointment in how my country -Venezuela- has been allowed to slip into a state of collapse. In fact, our time in Davos coincided with massive protests in Venezuela; backing the path towards a transition to democracy. I felt, in a small way, that my participation in Davos was a contribution to this protest too. I believe the room shared my anger and disappointment. My feeling was that everyone in the room was well-aware of the scale of environmental degradation, there was no denial in the air, there was also no shying away from blame. What there was most was an eagerness for solutions, for answers, for what to do next. I was asked how to create a platform to channel the youth’s anger towards solutions on climate change. I was also asked what could be done about the corrupt Venezuelan elites and the plundering of Venezuela’s oil resources. . .

Ultimately, I found inspiration in the work we managed to produce and in the ideas that my fellow scholars and alumni are already undertaking to solve some of the most pressing issues in their home countries. I was especially moved to find a willing and empathetic crowd of experienced leaders in Davos; equally eager for solutions and to transform our reality. My anger and disappointed seems to have opened the door for some hope of a better future. . .

About the Scholar

Simonetta Spavieri

Environmental Change and Management (MSc), 2019
Pembroke College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar