A Conversation with Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps, and Katherine Cheng, Head of Global Corporate Citizenship and Community Relations at Expedia

An audience of close to 450 gathered at the 2013 GlobalWA conference to hear the always-engaging Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps, talk with Katherine Cheng, Head of Global Corporate Citizenship and Community Relations for Bellevue-based Expedia.

The conversation began with talk of the recent destruction in the Philippines.

“I know everyone here has been following the news.  What’s really important now, and for people to understand is that there is going to be fog and chaos.  The infrastructure is destroyed and some areas have not been reached yet,” said Keny-Guyer.  “The hope is to restore some of the transportation infrastructure which is critical.  We are down on the ground with other organizations and this is where it really is all about collective impact” said Keny-Guyer, referencing the theme of this year’s conference, Catalyzing Collective Impact.

Cheng then went on to cover Keny-Guyer’s background and 20 years of work with Mercy Corps before discussing how the rise in technology has impacted both Keny Guyer’s life and the work of Mercy Corps.

“It’s sort of shocking that 6 billion people in the world have mobile phones and only 4.5 million have access to a toilet.  It (mobile phones) has the power to connect people in really good ways. Mobilizing social networks is what we now have as tools that enable us to reach people,” said Keny-Guyer.

The topic of the Syrian crisis also dominated a large portion of the conversation, with Keny-Guyer stressing that educating Syrian youth is necessary to keep their generation from becoming lost.

“As tragic as the Philippines is today, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Their society will be restored.  In Syria, it is not clear what the light is and where the end might be.  Syria is the most complex humanitarian crisis around the world,” said Keny-Guyer.  “We are at risk of losing a whole generation of young people.  Not receiving education, drawing the wrong conclusions and moving to extreme positions…my view and hope is that everyone will recognize there are no military solutions.”  The room erupted in applause.

Keny-Guyer and Cheng wrapped up the conversation with talk of how technology is creating hope for Palestinian youth in our digital economy.

“I wish I could have put it into a bottle and release it into the room.  We all would be walking on clouds for the rest of the year,” said Keny-Guyer when reminiscing about the excitement young Palestinian women expressed after winning a contest in which they shared an entrepreneurial social enterprise project.

It was easy to sense the passion that both Cheng and Keny-Guyer share for global development and the importance of organizations working together to accomplish key goals.  While they work in different worlds, one a CEO of an NGO and one a leader in the corporate world, they clearly understand the path that we’re on together – a path to a more prosperous and equitable world for all.