Monday, December 23, 2013

10 Most Impressive People at the WPC

Through a progression of fortuitous circumstances, I was invited to the World Policy Conference in Monaco this December. The World Policy Conference is a gathering  of policymakers, academics, journalists and other thought leaders to talk about the problems that face the world, focusing on global governance. From my understanding, it's a rather informal event where some pretty important people get together to discuss cool stuff with other pretty important people. I'm not an important person, but I got to go.

Rather than recount my experiences during my weekend in Monaco, I decided to share my personal list of the most impressive people I heard or talked to during the conference.

1. Jim Hoagland
If the conference were to have an award titled "Winner of the Conference," Jim Hoagland would have won it. By far my favorite speaker, Hoagland drew up his decades of service as a foreign correspondent for the Washington Post to both moderate a discussion as well as speak on the final panel on general global issues. I had a chance to speak with him in between sessions about a whole range of issues, including his opinions about Jeff Bezos' purchase of the post and he only became more impressive in my eyes.

2. Stephen Breyer
One of the last people you expect to see at an international relations conference in Monaco is a judge. Judges focus on the laws and issues of their own countries, and previously I would have told you that this would probably force the judges of our highest court to be almost less knowledgeable of issues beyond our borders. US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer not only dominated a panel on international law, he did so in fluent French. I got a case of the fan-boys and had to shake his hand after, stammering that I was proud how Americans like him represent my county. 

3. HRH Prince Turki Al-Faisal
While living in Washington, I found that Americans who talk about foreign affairs like to stereotype the worldviews of others based on their countries. Maybe everyone does this. I'm not sure what stereotypes Prince Turki Al-Faisal broke for me in Monaco, but his opinions on the Syrian civil war, Iran, Israel,  and Saudi Arabia's refusal of a security council seat were all fascinating to me. The one-time Director General of Saudi Arabia's intelligence agency and Ambassador to both the US and the UK made sure to continually mention that he was not attending the conference in any official capacity.

4. Meir Sheetrit
A currently sitting member of the Israeli Knesset, Meir Sheetrit is the kind of realist, truth-speaking politician that I don't always like, but always respect and find indispensable.

5. Tidjane Thiam
An Ivorian businessman who impressed everyone with his intelligence, excitement and wit. What I liked about him was that he wasn't in business in Africa just because he thought it would help Africa. He was in business in Africa because he saw a great opportunity there, and I personally think that this is the type of perspective that will be needed to help truly develop sub-Saharan Africa. Nothing against aid agencies, but private business has so much more potential to help Africans help themselves than any amount of donations or foreign government-funded infrastructure projects.

6. David Rosen
Rabbi Rosen is the former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and will destroy all your stereotypes of rabbis, or of religious figures in general. Outspoken and excited to almost an overwhelming degree, Rosen is not just impressive but very interesting. See for yourself:

Maybe my favorite speaker during the finance sessions, John Lipsky is the former acting director of the IMF and has a great handle on banking's role in the most recent crisis and the regulation that is trying to prevent another such crisis from happening again but is at the same time slowing the recovery. He also is currently a visiting professor at SAIS - man, do I feel special!

8. Bartholomew I's Assistant
Bartholomew I is the Patriarch of Constantinople and one of the world's great religious leaders. We had the honor to hear him speak, but I unfortunately was distracted by his assistant, whose main job seemed to be to keep the Patriarch's hat unwrinked every two minutes. It might seem kind of silly, but it was actually really impressive.

Although it sounds a bit like nepotism to put her on the list given the fact that she went to grad school with me, I pretty sure that a lot of people at the conference would agree with me that Chidiogo is one of the most impressive people they've ever met. In addition to being terrifyingly smart and well-spoken, Chidiogo is also a lot of fun to be around. Oh, also she fluently speaks English, French, German, Chinese, Italian, Spanish and Igbo and switches between them with ease.

A French economist who according to some "should" have been the next president of the European Central Bank rather than Mario Draghi. He currently serves on the Executive Board of the European Central Bank and he really knows his stuff. Unlike many academics who talk about the European project, I got the feeling that he not only felt that the Eurozone could make Europe a better place, but that he had a lot of good ideas on how it could do so.

Most of the sessions from the conference can be viewed here. If you want to see my small brush with fame, go to Plenary Session 10 and skip to 28:03.