Levin lands in Switzerland

Yale representatives, including University President Richard Levin, arrived today in Davos, Switzerland for the 40th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

This year, the five-day forum will bring together more than 2,500 attendees from around the world — mostly business leaders, government officials, academics and representatives of non-governmental organizations — to discuss global issues, including sustainability and rebuilding infrastructure in developing countries.. For his part, Levin will chair a meeting of the Global University Leaders Forum during the conference. The forum’s theme, “Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild,” is especially relevant in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, the forum’s founder and executive director, Klaus Schwab, said in a Jan. 20 press release.

“The concept of the forum each year is to force creative thinking,” said University Vice President and Secretary Linda Lorimer, who is also in Switzerland for the forum. “[This year’s theme] suggests the need to be creative and ambitious in all the topics and their consideration.”

Since this year’s forum comes on the heels of the devastation of Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, Schwab said he hopes the world leaders who gather in Davos will take it as an opportunity to rally to the Haitian cause and commit to helping with the country’s reconstruction.

Lorimer said Davos is an ideal place to seek solutions for Haiti, since so many world leaders are gathered in a small town.

“There’s a lot of serendipity involved,” she said. “People come together in hallways and strike up conversations that lead to something unexpected.”

At the forum, Levin and Lorimer will connect with Yale alumni, as well as colleagues from distant countries, such as the new president of the University of Tokyo — whom Levin will meet without ever having to fly to Japan.

Levin — who said he has been attending the World Economic Forum nearly every year for more than a decade — will lead a group of about 25 university presidents in discussions about issues in global higher education. These include strengthening higher education in developing countries, managing branches of professional schools abroad and launching digital initiatives, such as Open Yale Courses, which make video of some Yale lectures available online, free of charge.

University presidents will also discuss sustainability initiatives at their respective schools, Levin said. Over the past several years, he said, he has used this annual meeting to encourage other schools to crack down on carbon emissions.

“We have most of the schools [that regularly attend] following strategies very similar to ours,” he said.

Yale is one of several universities, corporations and other organizations — including Oxford University, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — invited by the World Economic Forum to host an “idea lab” to talk about some of its ongoing projects and research. Levin will discuss scientific innovations coming out of Yale, Lorimer will outline the possible social impact of Open Yale Courses, Ernesto Zedillo, director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization and former president of Mexico, will share his ideas about the reformation of the World Bank and economics professor Robert Shiller will talk about his recent research into changing the prices of durable assets, Levin said.

The forum runs Tuesday through Saturday. The opening address will be delivered by Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, and the closing meeting, about “Being Responsible for the Future,” will be led by Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury in the United Kingdom.

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