Just one month earlier I hadn’t even heard of Rigonce. For that matter, most of the world had never heard of Rigonce, Slovenia, a town of 176 residents. It was the 170,000 refugees who arrived over 45 days that threw them into global headlines. As I stood on a train platform on the Slovenian-Croatian border, I struggled to see through the cold, dense fog. I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that thousands of mostly Syrian refugees would be arriving at any moment.
For two years, I had been obsessed with the refugee crisis erupting in the Middle East and Europe. I had read dozens, if not hundreds, of stories and seen thousands of images, but none of it prepared me for what I was about to see. Before the train even came to a stop, a man in his 40s, hanging out of an open window, cried out in heavily accented English, “Where are we? What country is this?” Over the next three hours, I felt utterly helpless as thousands of refugees—single mothers, sick children, elderly adults, and crippled fathers—lined up to get blankets, food, water, and medical care. It was a life-changing experience for me.
I spent my own childhood living in the developing world and moved to the U.S. as a teenager. While I have no idea how difficult it is to be a refugee, there are elements of my own life that give me a deep sense of empathy for the struggles of refugees.
On May 23 – 24, I will be in Istanbul attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit as a member of the nine-person United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council. 5,000 individuals from every corner of the globe will also be in attendance, including heads of state and government and others leaders from government, business, and civil society.
The purpose of this groundbreaking summit is threefold: 1. To re-inspire and reinvigorate our shared commitment to humanitarian principles. 2. To initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises. 3. To share best practices that can help save lives and alleviate suffering around the world.
This summit is a starting point, not an end of process. While most of you reading this post will not be in Istanbul, we need your help and involvement. The events of the summit will be live-streamed through the WHS website, and you can share through social media—Twitter: @WHSummit, Facebook: facebook.com/whsummit, Hashtag: #ShareHumanity.
Let us all stand together and jointly commit to “leave no one behind.”
Davis Smith is the CEO of Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear company with a humanitarian mission at its core. He is also a member of the UNF’s Global Entrepreneurs Council. Follow Davis’ travels @davismsmith