Before last October, I hadn’t even heard of Rigonce, Slovenia. For that matter, most of the world had never heard of Rigonce, a small town of 176 residents. But when 170,000 refugees arrived in just over 45 days, Rigonce became the latest front in the continuing refugee crisis.
It was a nine-second video on Instagram, showing thousands of weary refugees walking in unison through Slovenian fields, that triggered me to act. Aside from simply being a part of the same human family, my own childhood experiences embedded a deep sense of empathy for refugees. I spent my youth and much of my adult life living in the developing world, and while my experiences weren’t at all comparable to the suffering of a refugee, they implanted a deep-rooted compassion for others.
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 over 1,000 mostly Syrian refugees would be arriving at any moment.
For two years, I had been closely following 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.
After the train came to a stop, a man in his 30s, 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 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, solidifying my commitment to doing what I can to help those who have lost everything because of conflict and disaster.
On May 23–24, the world has an opportunity to stand together for our shared humanity and for the millions of people in need, like those I met in Slovenia. I will be in Istanbul attending the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit as a member of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council. About 6,000 individuals from every corner of the globe and every sector will also be in attendance, including heads of state and others leaders from government, business, and civil society.
The purpose of this summit is threefold: 1. To re-inspire and re-invigorate our shared commitment to humanitarian principles. 2. To initiate 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 World Humanitarian Summit 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 UN Foundation’s Global