Play Today, Lead Tomorrow

I was humbled and honored to be recognized as a Schwab Social Entrepreneur of the Year. One of the benefits is an invitation to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, being held January 25-29. In considering what a community builder and play advocate brings to this gathering of thought leaders, I thought it is the perfect place to talk about the importance of play and its appropriate role in society.

I often say that play is the best natural resource in a creative economy. I'm not the only one who thinks so. In a recent IBM study of 1,500 CEOs, creativity was deemed the most important leadership quality in today's complex social and economic environment.

Unstructured play gives kids the space they need to tinker and take risks -- both vital for the budding entrepreneur. Yet, too frequently these opportunities are being taken away from our kids in favor of more structured activities or time in front of a computer screen. The lack of free, child-directed play time for our kids today will have dire consequences for these future leaders, making them less prepared to solve complex challenges and problems. That is one reason why KaBOOM! has embraced the concept of the Imagination Playground™ which uses loose parts and encourages kids to use their imaginations and be creative.

Play also paves the way for successful relationships. One of the things I am most looking forward to in Davos is meeting people from all over the world who have different experiences than mine. I am guaranteed to learn something unexpected from someone I have yet to meet, something that will spark an idea worth pursuing. Playgrounds are the perfect training ground for kids today who are growing up in ever more transient and diverse communities. The sandbox is a figurative melting pot of ideas where our kids are first exposed to different points of view. The playground is where kids learn to build relationships, share and negotiate.

The World Economic Forum brings together 2,500 CEOs and government leader "committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas." My message to them is that we must shift our societal values to recognize the importance of play in our children's physical, emotional and cognitive development, not just for their health, but for the health of our world.