Think local, former U.N. leader Kofi Annan tells Miami forum

The annual abc* Continuity Forum will judge 32 social entrepreneurs and award the top three $100,000 grants.

By Anna Edgerton

In the Ritz-Carlton ballroom in Coconut Grove on Monday, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, addressed a crowd of well-dressed world savers to open the Continuity Forum of the Americas Business Council (abc*). In a speech that touched on the environment, the Arab awakening, democracy in Latin America, the spiraling conflict in Syria, nuclear war and resource scarcity, Annan encouraged attendees to address these and other problems by thinking local.

“People ask me all the time, ‘what should one do to become a global citizen?’ I tell them, get involved with your community, your city, your town, your village,” Annan said.

For abc*, a think tank dedicated to “people, planet and philanthropy” in the Americas, Miami is the center of that community. Smack dab in the middle of the hemisphere, for two years Miami has hosted the annual Continuity Forum that attracts more than 300 people from all over North and South America. Rebecca Mandelman, senior director of the abc* based in Miami Beach, said she has recently seen more and more of these would-be world changers coming to Miami to stay.

“There’s this intellectual thirst in Miami that brings a lot of these forces together,” Mandelman said. Referring to the co-sponsoring organizations — many of them local, like the Knight Foundation, Univision, PODER magazine and technology company Ico Group — she said, “Miami is like the fulcrum, the center for people in our community.”

The three-day conference, which sold tickets in advance, features a full roster of impressive speakers, including Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. But the main focus is the competition between 32 “social entrepreneurs” who will present their projects to be judged by the five chairman of abc* and the foundation’s 23 fellows. The best three projects will receive $100,000 grants, media support and business connections for two years.

“We evaluate them by their potential to make the greatest impact,” said Mario Scarpetta, director of Colombian cement and energy company Inversiones Argos and co-chairman of abc*. To evaluate their effectiveness, he said abc* would review each project’s “strategic business plans and economic models of their impact.”

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Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.