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PUSH Conference Report

The PUSH Conference opened yesterday at the Walker Art Museum here in Minneapolis. Jenni Wolfson is a remarkable person, a Scottish woman who gave a gripping monologue this morning, talking about her experiences as a former UN aid worker in Rwanda. I guess you would call this performance art, but it..

The PUSH Conference opened yesterday at the Walker Art Museum here in Minneapolis.

Jenni Wolfson is a remarkable person, a Scottish woman who gave a gripping monologue this morning, talking about her experiences as a former UN aid worker in Rwanda. I guess you would call this performance art, but it was far more powerful, a terrifying recollection of her time in this war-torn country. Really extraordinary listening, watching her recount the horror of living amid refugees, violence and a constant deluge of mortar shells. The latter point makes me think of the situation in Sderdot that I read about but don't really understand. Its impressive to think that, along with her work as an artist, Jenni currently serves as the interim director of the human rights organization WITNESS.

Nate Garvis from Target was the highlight of the afternoon. He offered an interesting, business-centric perspective. As head of public policy efforts at Target, his job responsibilities predicate on lobbying and influence. So, his talk was revealing as you tried to read between the lines to determine whether his views truly represent the mindset of one of the largest retailers in the country or simply a daring maverick in the organization. It was a bit of a game to parse his words. He described how the separate realms of public service, private sector and civil society are colliding in the new world order. In one such example, Nate revealed that Target is working with law enforcement in MN to use its inventory management software to track criminals. Kind of odd. Instead of tracking socks, Target is tracking felons. Something to think about next time you are browsing the big red aisles searching for a bottle of Method.

He also pointed out various other trends. The evolution of storytelling as primary societal narrative. The value of conspicuous consumerism, actually holding out Ethos Water as an example. Finally, Garvis highlighted the shift from Command and Control leadership models to a Listen and Respond model. What does it mean when one of the largest retailers in the US insists that insights and lessons manifest from down below, not top? How does it change buying policies, marketing strategies, etc? We talk about the same forces at GOOD. We are animated by our notion of GOOD as a member-driven community. Funny to hear one of the leading retailers in the world admitting to this as a source of influence and inspiration.

Clyde Prestowitz, head of the Economic Strategy Institute and a longtime member of Beltway establishment, spoke about global economic policies. I remember him from my time in the Clinton administration when he, as a Carter alum, was advocating a more protectionist perspective that mapped to our trade agenda. His views on competitiveness policy and energy independence have come back into vogue. In one startling admission, he confessed to being afraid of Google because "no one really understands what it does." INHO, Mark Haddon a fmr Labor MP and currently lead diplomatic correspondent for Al Jazeera, gave a more thoughtful answer, calling out the danger of all large MNCs who operate across borders yet lack of elected accountability and are motivated by rapacious self-interest. These twin forces can motivate them to pursue strategies that might not serve the public interest. He cited News Corp as an example, which seems like something of an understatement.

The day ended with an outdoor dinner/picnic at Minnehaha Falls, a marvelous outdoor park built around the natural beauty of the waterfall. Speakers mingled with attendees and volunteers, all communing around oysters and local beer. It was a low-key and really fun affair – no pretensions, just conversation. Unlike TED or Davos, PUSH feels much more "Midwest" – friendly, far more accessible, just more down-to-earth. The audience is more local, the tone less sanctimonious, the whole affair simply more intimate. An appropriate close to an interesting and provocative day.

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