By Beau Allen
The Concordia Summit Group
Taking a new approach toward tackling global extremism, the Concordia Summit Group held its inaugural conference on Sept. 20, convening business leaders alongside heads of state, government officials and counter-terrorism experts to forge public-private partnerships around the issue.
Keynoted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, the gathering of some 120 participants was held in New York City around the 10th anniversary of 9/11.
Conference participants looked at how businesses can support and work hand in hand with community leaders to "invest in the long-term sustainability of ‘at-risk' communities," according to Concordia founders Nicholas Logothetis and Matthew Swift. This strategy, Logothetis and Swift believe, will inevitably lead to a decline in extremist behavior, because increasing the availability of attractive alternatives and strengthening communities will bring much-needed stability to areas of unrest.
It takes just a cursory glance at successful undertakings in areas such as education and the environment to see that public-private partnerships are an effective tool for making meaningful progress on critical issues.
Speaking at the Summit about his leadership and the role of the private sector during Colombia's transformation, former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said, "We built a popular cohesion with the private sector to express that Colombia was in need of security. Our cohesion started with the private sector and ordinary citizens, not with politicians, who never wanted to commit to security. This is what I call the necessity of the popular cohesion to introduce any important change."
Echoing President Uribe's message, Frances Townsend, a former Homeland Security Advisor to President George W. Bush, said, "As we face a fiscal crisis around the world, it is now more important than ever that we understand what the capabilities are that reside both inside government and in the private sector. There is an ongoing dialogue about how to share that information legally and effectively so that we can protect our own populations."
Through speeches from world leaders, panel discussions, a sophisticated crisis simulation and breakout sessions, conference participants explored various strategies to create public-private partnerships and how to most effectively use these around the issue of fighting extremism. An overarching aim of these partnerships is to alleviate the social and economic conditions in at-risk countries that give rise to extremist ideologies and behavior.
Participants noted that businesses provide critical jobs and believe that the private sector should work with community leaders to transform communities at risk for breeding extremism. Businesses could also work with governments to design subsidy programs to incentivize farmers currently growing illegal substances to instead turn to crops that benefit the community.
Brainstorms consisting of government leaders and senior-level business executives, spanning industries from finance and defense to media and energy, led to some interesting recommendations.
First, participants agreed that crucial modifications need to be made to the Patriot Act, including the implementation of a "trusted business" program akin to the global "Trusted Traveler" program. This would enable honest and respected businesses to operate effectively and would result in significant financial and labor resource savings for governments.
Second, attendees believe that governments should have strengthened capabilities to track, freeze and seize assets of suspected terrorists and drug distributors. With a more powerful handle on the activities of these individuals and organizations, governments could more effectively hinder their ability to operate.
Participants indicated that there's a dire need for countries to improve their images in the eyes of foreign audiences in order to have a positive impact in their communities. The final suggestion, therefore, was to conduct a study of the perception of the United States and other countries by examining how citizens abroad view a country through the lens of its consumer brands.
This notion is based in the idea that powerful brands resonate strongly with consumers. Participants believe that lessons could be learned from leading businesses around how to communicate with their audiences to utilize their brand value.
The event's hallmark session, the crisis simulation of a response to a terrorist attack, featured a live panel of world leaders played by business executives and the heads of state in attendance.
Overall, participants found the exercise meaningful and valued the opportunity to forge alliances with other companies and government agencies represented at the conference.
Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who opened the conference, called Concordia "an essential initiative," while 9/11 Commission chair Thomas Kean and former Colombian President Uribe urged all businesses to support the "forward-looking" endeavor.
Former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said Concordia is a critical tool at a critical time to bring all our resources to bear against extremists.
Concordia will hold a series of briefings over the coming year leading up to its second annual conference to be held next fall. For more information, please visit the summit's official website or e-mail the organizers.
Founded by Nicholas Logothetis and Matthew Swift in February 2011, the Concordia Summit Group is a non-profit organization that seeks to develop public-private partnerships around global issues of critical importance.
Logothetis, 23, is an entrepreneur and sits on the board of directors of Libra Group, a diversified global conglomerate. Swift, 25, has a background in media and politics, having worked for News Corp. for seven years, and recently co-founded a policy-based political action committee for young professionals focused on promoting fiscal responsibility, energy advancement and a strong defense policy.