The event will cover issues including the U.S. election, sustainability, and the pandemic
Collaboration and strategic partnerships are the cornerstones of creating meaningful change. And international issues like food security, human rights, and the response to the Covid-19 pandemic can best be addressed with public-private partnerships.
Matthew Swift, the CEO, co-founder and chairman of Concordia, knows this. That’s why the organization is going ahead this year with its Concordia Annual Summit, albeit virtually.
“If you look at all the subjects that we cover, these are subjects that are still incredibly important,” he says. “The critical importance of discussions around the state of the upcoming U.S. elections and civic engagement, or sustainability, or financing the future and the role of technology and data in society—these are all issues that are still there, pandemic or no pandemic.”
The 10th Concordia Annual Summit convenes on Sept. 21, offering an immersive five-day digital experience with cutting-edge content, networking opportunities, panels, and town hall discussions. Speakers include U.S. journalist Bob Woodward, First Lady Monica Geingos of Namibia, Cameroonian soccer player Samuel Eto’o Fils, and Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the former president of Colombia.
Not only does the summit bring today’s leaders and luminaries together, it also fosters the next generation by creating spaces for conversations among young people.
“We are very proud of our ability to convene and what it means to participate in a Concordia Summit,” Swift explains. “Convening, to us, is an art form. Bringing people together and partnership development is an art form, and that doesn’t wait for a pandemic.”
There are three ways to get access to the summit: the Livestream Pass ($95) allows people to view all the main sessions. The Summit Pass ($500) gives attendees access to the platform, but not the smaller sessions. The All-Access Pass ($1,000) is reserved for members, Concordia’s alumni community, partners, and sponsors.
“Those three access points give us an enormous amount of ability to reach communities that we’ve not been able to reach before,” Swift notes. “I expect a lot of people to use the live stream path.”
The 2020 Concordia Annual Summit has been expanded from the usual two days held in person, and the talks are organized around key themes, including U.S. Elections and Civic Engagement, Covid Response and Recovery, and Technology and Workforce Development.
Although it has evolved to include representatives from more than 90 countries, it began in the summer of 2011 with about 100 attendees. As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks loomed, Swift and his best friend, Nicholas Logothetis—now the chairman of the organization’s board—had the idea of inviting thought leaders to discuss the importance of partnerships in combating extremism.
“It started as a half-day meeting with about a hundred people,” he remembers. “Nick has this great comment he always makes that it was pretty much just our friends. We didn’t know anyone else at the time.”
But that was the beginning of a decade-long journey, Swift adds.
“Our goals and objectives from the very beginning were about holding a fiercely nonpartisan meeting that brought together leaders of the public and private sectors to talk about how they can better work together to address some of the most pressing issues of our time,” he says.
The seeds for lasting collaboration are often planted at the annual summit, which is typically held in New York around the same time as the General Assembly of the United Nations.
“Heads of states and people with significant voices from all ends of the spectrum and all geographies attend,” says Andrew Liveris, the former chairman and CEO of the Dow Chemical Company and a member of Concordia’s Leadership Council. “They come from countries with real societal needs and form partnerships with the business community to get things done in their countries… You do notice the business-geography partnerships forming in these events.”
During his time at Dow Chemical Company, Liveris said he cultivated connections in regions as diverse as Sierra Leone and Colombia.
“Those partnerships were extremely useful and helped me put a human face to Dow in those countries,” he notes. “At the same time, it helped me understand what those countries need and what my company could provide.”
Not only can the summit help connect people, it can expedite projects, according to Petra Nemcova, supermodel, member of Concordia’s Leadership Council, and co-founder of All Hands and Hearts, an international organization that aids communities impacted by natural disasters.
One example is the 2018 launch of the Resilient Response Initiative, a coalition that includes nonprofits such as All Hands and Hearts, Good360 and Global Citizen, as well as corporate partners like the software company Salesforce and Airbnb. Members of the coalition are committed to long-term disaster relief initiatives.
“This public/private partnership has brought together many companies and nonprofits to rethink the way in which natural disasters are addressed, as the road to recovery often takes years,” Nemcova notes.
The opportunity to create meaningful connections within such a diverse group is one of the key reasons members continue their involvement with Concordia.
“It has the feeling of a boutique organization, but the reach of a global citizen,” Liveris says.
This year’s summit includes an ambitious line-up of speakers and events.
It all starts on the morning of Sept. 21 with a round-robin discussion on the upcoming presidential elections in the U.S. and civic engagement across the country. Topics will include election security, racial justice, the role of media, and campaign finance, among others.
“It’s going to be this rapid-fire series of interviews with different people of all different political perspectives,” Swift explains. “I want to use it as an opportunity to give the most balanced collection of perspectives on what’s happening.”
That event will end with a session featuring international speakers who will offer both their questions about the election, as well as their reactions. Later that day, Woodward will speak about “Rage,” his book about the presidency of Donald Trump that was published earlier this month.
“There is such significant interest in what’s happening in the United States and in the election by the world,” Swift notes.
Covid response and recovery is another key theme of the summit. It will also serve as the topic of the first meeting of the Concordia Action Alliance, a newly formed group of companies, NGOs, and governments that are all on the front lines of the pandemic.
“This is something that is really important for our 10th anniversary because it’s going to define Concordia for the next 10 years,” Swift notes. “It is this alliance of companies, NGOs, and governments that are all on the front lines of the pandemic.”
The alliance will allow members to share resources, feedback, advice, and experiences from the front lines.
“Most importantly, even after the pandemic, this community can come together around disaster response anywhere in the globe,” Swift says, adding that “a percentage of the funds raised for the alliance will be given in the form of grants to smaller institutions on the front lines.”
And while the agenda is stacked with luminaries, there’s also a focus on the next generation.
Throughout the summit, these future leaders can join conversations—dubbed Fresh Takes—with other young people and which are guided by senior Concordia representatives.
“There’s a big emphasis on the next generation of leaders, policy advocates, and business leaders…[and] the need for this generational shift in global leadership,” Swift notes.
Organizers are also making a point to discuss divisions that hard conversations seem to create.
“A lot of the conversations we’re going to be holding are with the intent to remind people of what brings us together,” the CEO explains. “For instance, the role of sport in diplomacy, the role of culture in diplomacy, and what that means for countries. These are things countries are proud of, but also that other countries respect.”
The summit will also include a special 10th anniversary celebration on Sept. 24, during which the 2020 Leadership Awards will be presented to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, Walmart’s Doug McMillon, and Former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres.
There was never any question of cancelling the summit this year, according to Swift, but going digital did present an “incredibly difficult” challenge.
“Hosting an entirely digital summit versus an in-person summit is like speaking a completely different language,” he says.
But the work has helped expand the organization and build on its legacy of inclusiveness.
“We are building this large digital footprint that is inclusive of so many more people than we normally could bring together,” Swift explains. “And I think that’s going to make the 10th Concordia Annual Summit so special and so important. But also, in the future, when we get back to bringing people together in person, that digital footprint will be critically important.”
For more information or to register for the 10th Concordia Annual Summit, visit concordia.net/annualsummit/2020annualsummit