THNK Partner, Mark Vernooij shares insights gained from his trip to the 2017 World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland where global decision-makers convened over the topic of Responsive and Responsible Leadership.
It’s hard to describe the World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos – in short referred to as Davos. It’s a combination of a conference, a set of extremely powerful meetings, a snow-covered party and an elite feast for the who’s who of corporate, political and (social) entrepreneurial worlds. This year was my second time in Davos and I’m again blown away, inspired and I feel blessed to have been. Here, I’ll try to summarize some of the things that happened.
Global power struggles
The sentiment on geopolitics was one of concern. Concern for the impact of Trump, even though Anthony Scaramucci from his office mentioned that we are misunderstanding Trump and that he doesn’t want a trade war with China, tear apart NATO, see the end of the EU or instigate a nuclear war.
While president Trump seems to be retreating to nationalism, president Xi Jinping who was the first Chinese president to attend Davos was promoting globalization. “The international financial crisis […] is not an inevitable outcome of economic globalization, rather it is the consequence of the excessive chase of profit by financial capital and a great failure of financial regulation” he said. This message was reinforced by Ali Baba CEO Jack Ma.
In his final speech before leaving office, Joe Biden urged for a continuation of the transatlantic alliance to build peace and stability. “Our careful attention to building and sustaining the international world order, with the US and Europe at its core, was the bedrock of the success that the world enjoyed in the second half of the 20th century”, he said.
Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger reinforced Biden's message by saying “President Trump will have to find a definition of the American role that answers the concern in many parts of the world that America is giving up its indispensable leadership role and define what and where America can lead, where it must contribute, and in that process help in the creation of an international order” as did the Managing Director of the IMF Christine Lagarde.
As for Europe, British Prime Minister Theresa May shared a seemingly conflicting message of a hard exit from the EU while pursuing globalization at the same time. Her assurances to the financial sector that Britain would remain a great place for banks was received with skepticism. At the same time, EU leaders defended the strength of the European union: “The EU is as strong as the member states allow” Said Martin Schulz, the outgoing President of the European Parliament.
The theme of Davos this year was Responsive & Responsible leadership. With this theme, the Forum seemed to have put its finger right on the painful spot. While Oxfam International asked whether we are happy to live in a world where just eight men control the same wealth as half of humanity, Edelman reported a global implosion of trust in authority with 43% of respondents trusting the press, 37% trusting CEO’s and a meagre 29% trusting government leaders. Other concerns were the millennials loosing 43% in wages, the inequality gap as a result of technological advances in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the gender Gap and of course the refugee crisis.
The meeting might have started with looking for solutions from political leaders, for example requests for a serious consideration of basic income. But CEO’s quickly embraced the UN Sustainable Development Goals as a practical guide to what challenges need to be solved. By the end of the meeting, over 100 CEO’s had signed the Compact for Responsive and Responsible Leadership that was presented earlier in the week. This compact recognizes the UN SDG’s, and the need for leaders not to give into shortermism, but rather to open the dialogue with all stakeholders to work on them. Also, the Forum teamed with the University of California Marine Science Institute to protect the world’s $2.5 trillion Ocean Economy. These form examples of at least 10 achievements from Davos 2017.
The fourth industrial revolution
Last year’s discussions on new technologies like software, driverless cars, AI, automation, drones, digital currencies and robots continued. But where last year, there was a great level of fear around the fourth industrial revolution, it felt like governments and business leaders were more optimistic about technology and had hopes that jobs would not just be lost but rather transformed. According to the Digital Transformation Initiative, as much as 60% of the $100 trillion value from digital at stake in the next decade will likely accrue to society instead of business. That doesn’t mean there are no ethical concerns or risks (e.g. cyber-attacks) and needs for reskilling government officials and others.
The continued growth in technological capabilities will require leadership to become more Responsive and Responsible. Sergey Brin shared that, as leaders, we don’t always know how technology will develop – expecting AI not to take such a big role. And Jack Ma advised to pay attention to the people who are under 30, running companies who have fewer than 30 employees, because those will have most impact on the world of the next 30 years.
I leave Davos clearer on what needs to be done, more hopeful that together we can and will make a difference, more driven to make my own contribution. I leave in a Davos state of mind.
Watch my interview with Hub Culture at Davos 2017 below.
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