Homelessness affects everyone, even leaders in Davos

As soon as you pay for the train ticket headed to the World Economic Forum at Davos and get on board, it only takes a few minutes to realize that poverty has been properly blocked off from this part of the world. Constant snowfall perfect for international skiers and casual conversations, highlighting the various ways they could have arrived to Davos such as a limo, helicopter or private jet make it challenging for almost every passenger to remember that poverty even exists.

My name is Andrew Funk, the president of an NGO called #HomelessEntrepreneur that helps homeless people who want to tell their story and work to get off the street, and I’m one of the passengers on that train who didn’t forget about the 2.5 billion people living in poverty. I’m currently writing this article while standing at the Sustainable Impact Hub thanks to Olivier Delarue and his amazing team. Not only is it challenging to focus after sleeping out in a teepee in the below freezing weather last night to be coherent with the people we support, but all the stimulating conversations in the background from leaders at UPS, Red Cross and UNHCR also make it easy for me to be distracted, which represents the beautiful chaos created at Davos thanks to all of the people that want to show their commitment to improving the state of the world.

The only missing factor is the audience that all of these leaders speak so fervently about. Where is the homeless man named Jose who became homeless after he lost his wife to a heart attack at 42 while walking to the grocery store because his love for her was so deep that he didn’t see a reason to live anymore? Where is Tomas’ success story of getting off the street and becoming a full time volunteer to help others during the last month he is supposed to live after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer? Where is the behind the scenes conversation between leaders and those being led?

Although our main message “active citizen participation will end homelessness” may seem to focus on the individual and the local community, we can’t forget that global leaders creating policy are citizens too. Governments are composed of people who have the same exact possibility of slipping on a frozen street or getting their vehicle stuck in snow like the Wall Street Journal, who we helped get out of that situation.

Debate must take place and leaders must listen to the voice of those they help to ensure that our future is shared and not lop-sided. The snow covered teepee which represents real housing for homeless around the world would be a perfect place for world leaders to debate about how greater wealth can be generated among the poorer communities. We have 2.5 billion people who are passively participating in today’s progress and they must be seen as an asset as part of the solution instead of the problem debated behind closed doors that are protected by armed soldiers.

It is often said that homeless people are invisible, but the truth is society is blind.

Our sleepout at The World Economic Forum is a microcosm of the reality many homeless people suffer on a daily basis. It is often said that homeless people are invisible, but the truth is society is blind. We cannot expect global leaders like Macron, May, Modi, Trudeau and Trump to sleep in the streets of Davos to show their commitment to ending homelessness, but we can and should expect them to address the issue and start creating policies that will facilitate the work of all the large and small organizations who believe the world can be a better place and will if we actually care and focus on how to solve global issues by involving the local community.

Will homelessness be addressed this year in Davos? Will I get a world leader to have a 5 minute conversation over coffee in the cold? Will results be found in Google when you search for “Davos homelessness” this week? I can only determine the last answer, but I will do everything in my power to reach the heart and mind of at least one world leader while I’m here. Whether or not our future is truly shared is now in their hands because local communities are waiting for them to say yes to the first two questions.

Everyone has a voice and it’s time to recognize all of them!


Andrew Funk is founder and President of Homeless Entrepreneur. You can learn more about this NGO in this episode of our podcast (in Spanish)

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Andrew Funk