There’s a particular kind of people that get onto helicopters in New York City and fly to the Rockefeller estate about an hour’s drive away. There, they attend a 200-person dinner with former heads of state, Admirals, CEOs, media elite and billionaire investors — shmoozing, chatting about business ideas, having a few glasses of wine. The next morning, they wake up and talk about the newest innovations in jet engine technology with some kids from MIT.
I will use a word to describe them — a word that has been thrown around with a negative connotation it simply does not deserve. These people are globalists.
And last weekend a number of these people — most of them young Silicon Valley types with an entrepreneurial bent — gathered for a meeting of the Kairos Society in New York City and talked about what these people always talk about when they’re together: fixing things and making money.
But these days, a global and entrepreneurial mindset means so much more than that.
We live in a world where the prevailing ideology in the White House is that the richest country in the world is a nation of losers who should be afraid of their own shadows. In the face of challenges, leaders around the world are increasingly telling their people that they can and should retreat.
The young entrepreneurs of the Kairos Society reject all that. And beyond the buzz words like “innovation” and “disruption,” beyond the energetic speeches about changing the world, and the private discussions about venture capital allocation, there was a far more powerful underlying message at this meeting.
The globalists are coming, and whether you like it or not, they’re here to help.
The kids are alright
The Kairos Society is a fellowship program for the best and brightest young entrepeneurs in the world. Founded in 2008, the group’s co-founders Ryan Bloomer, Alex Fiance, and Ankur Jain have since expanded the program to over 50 countries, and have also opened a venture fund. You must apply to be a part of Kairos, and referrals are ideal.
The idea, as Bloomer and his colleagues said over and over again during the three-day affair, is to tackle “the big problems the next generation should be focusing on.”
Of course, after you’ve pinpointed the problems you need to find the capital to set about solving them.
Once you’re in Kairos, you get access to the Kairos Rolodex, which — aside from a bunch of fresh faced, young brains from the Ivy League, Stanford and MIT — also includes a host of global leaders and investors you might run into at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
They attend meetings like this one in New York City to explain the nuances of these problems the young entrepeneurs are turning their attention to. Those problems run the gamut from fake news in media to climate change. Former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, for instance, showed up to discuss lowering the cost of healthcare.
Later, Papandreou, like everyone else in attendance, clapped at dinner when young Kairos fellow and Brazilian CEO Miguel Andorffy told the story of his education company, Me Salva.
Me Salva puts video classes on the internet, and as of now 400,000 classes are being watched a day. Four classes are being watched per second. Andorffy is looking for more capital to expand his business all over the world. Thus, the applause.
And thus, the appeal of Kairos. Entrepreneurship is in large part about seizing one’s circumstances, but if the market isn’t ready to receive your idea (i.e. you can’t find enough capital), it doesn’t matter how good it is. The point of organisations like Kairos is to move the invisible hand of the market just an inch in another direction.
And, in that sense, what people like nationalist White House advisor Steve Bannon say about globalists is true. There are only a few tens of thousands of people on the planet who get to move the hand, even just a little bit. Everyone else just has to deal with the consequences.
What would also likely upset Bannon and his ilk about Kairos is that the finest minds in the country are generally set about fixing the entire world’s problems, rather than worrying about the concerns of their home nation. Thinking beyond borders is not just encouraged, it’s basically a given.
On the second day of the conference, at the top of 1 World Trade Center, Kyle Nel, founder & executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, challenged the Kairos kids to do something seemingly simple — make paint healthier and cheaper.
“Suggesting that something healthy is going to cost more is an old way of thinking,” Nel said. “It’s only helping people where they live globally if everyone can afford it… What we [at Lowes] don’t have is the materials science. What we don’t have is the new thinking.”
Nel’s “new thinking,” in addition to maintaining a global rather than national focus, represents moving away from traditional national and global institutions because, after all, the problems Kairos fellows are trying to solve have been left unfixed by “broken, old industries and government” (Jain’s words).
In that way, and in that way alone, the Kairos kids and the nationalists that have taken hold of global politics are in agreement. Ankur Jain and Marine Le Pen could shake hands and agree that government has failed the people. Even Steve Bannon, who reportedly insults his White House colleague Gary Cohn by calling him “globalist Gary,” would likely nod his head if he heard Periscope founder Keyvon Beykpor say the most important thing for entrepeneurs is that they “build stuff.”
But that’s where the similarities end.
If you want to fly far out into the future of a Kairos mind then you need look no further than Jain’s father, Naveen Jain. An entrepreneur himself, he spoke on a panel with Papandreou and Werner Vogels, CTO & President of Amazon.
The elder Jain described a world of entrepeneurs solving problems through private enterprise so successfully that the nation-state becomes irrelevant. Something like that would give the Le Pens, Bannons, and Trumps of the world a migraine. Take away the nation and people like them are also irrelevant; take away the nation and everything they know is gone.
It was fitting that on Saturday, the last day of the conference, Kairos members presented their “Kairos 50” companies (the 50 most promising start-ups in the Society) on the floor of the venerable but almost-useless floor of the New York Stock Exchange. Now that trading has gone from an open-outcry system to the digital world, the place is a glorified TV set.
It is a reminder that even the most powerful institutions must bend a knee to the force of technological change. It is a reminder that, no matter what Steve Bannon or Trump or anyone says, there is no going backward in time.
Which means the world will continue getting smaller and closer and more interconnected, regardless of hiccups along the way. Kairos’ entrepeneurs plan with that in mind.
Nationalists would not like that the winner of the $US100,000 “Kairos 50” prize (from venture capital firm Draper Associates) was a company called Benben, which seeks to streamline land and property administration in Africa using blockchain technology.
They would not like that the $US50,000 prize went to Neolight, a company that seeks to revolutionise neonatal care. That company is especially focused on finding ways to prevent infants from dying of hypothermia or suffering from jaundice. These are problems one is more likely to encounter in the developing world than in say, Des Moines, Iowa.
In other words, the Kairos kids don’t put America first. No one involved with the Society would ever ask them to.
No one there thinks that small.
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