Davos 2020 Recap

Trevor Gibbons  Follow

Last week’s World Economic Forum has been top of mind for many of our clients and colleagues, some of whom were in attendance, including myself. The theme for 2020 was “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World” and I wanted to share a recap of some of the themes and highlights I found most interesting at Davos 2020.

Sustainability

  • Recognizing the difficulty in implementing sustainability principles in organizations, discussions at WEF included creating interdisciplinary teams that include finance, marketing and others to embed sustainability principles in all areas of business and generate more informed discussions. Organizations like Chapter Zero in the UK, for example, help non-executive directors create a roadmap to take these discussions into the boardroom.
  • Pakistan’s PM Imran Khan was very compelling in talking about his reforestation campaign to plant 10 billion trees (he’s already successfully planted a billion as part of a 2014 campaign that took less than four years). Like any good communicator – he started with local communities and made them understand how vulnerable they were to climate change with melting icebergs and overrun riverbeds.
  • President Trump was asked about Greta Thunberg, of course, during his impromptu press conference, but didn’t take the bait in the way others thought he would. Apparently, she was visibly tense as he spoke, but also impassioned when she told leaders that “our house is still on fire” and that their inaction was “fueling the flames by the hour.”
  • Al Gore called the climate crisis a “challenge to our moral imagination.”
  • While I didn’t get a chance to see the father of “the Prince formerly known as HRH,” Prince Charles weighed in strongly on how to evolve the economic model by advocating for green taxes.

Gender Equality

  • Sanna Marin, PM of Finland spoke on a panel about gender equality and while she acknowledged “we all have to fight each and every day for equality,” she also said that she hoped the election of female leaders would not get as much attention in the future because it would be the “new normal.” It was particularly interesting to hear that Finland has a 5-party coalition government and each party has women leaders in charge (four of them are under the age of 35!).

Technology

  • Environmentalist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, Coordinator of the Association of Peul Women and Autochthonous Peoples of Chad got a laugh when she mentioned that her grandmother was, “the best technology she had.” She was addressing what indigenous people can teach the world about climate change – observing wind direction, bird migration and the trees’ flowers – it was an interesting take on how technology is not necessarily the only solution to our problems.
  • Historian Yuval Noah Harari, gave what was frankly a kind of scary speech about the danger of data. He asked what will happen to politics in your country in 20 years when someone will know the entire medical and personal history of every politician, every judge and every journalist in your country? Would you still be an independent country or a data colony? Given that you don’t need an army to wreak havoc, one thing he posited, is that technology will reset the balance between the countries.

Future of Work and Societies (from this WEF summary)

  • According to Saadia Zahidi, Managing Director of the WEF, the next Industrial Revolution is expected to transform 1 billion jobs – almost 1/3 of all jobs worldwide – in the next ten years prompting WEF to launch “Reskilling Revolution,” an initiative to provide 1 billion people with better education, skills and jobs by 2030.
  • As part of this, Ivanka Trump spoke about the Pledge to America’s Workers, in which 400 companies have committed to join with the government to re-skill 15 million Americans.
  • Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM added, “You have to value skills and not just degrees. You have to have new education models and new pathways to get people retrained and back into the workforce.” 
  • Muriel Pénicaud, France's Minister of Labour, discussed what soft skills the workforce should learn.
  • Not all was scary though. Nearly all of the AI events and conversations discussed how important being human will be and how computers will not be able to replace the empathy, understanding, innovation and curiosity that allows us to interact with one another in our continued learning.

 Economy

  • Paul Tudor Jones said the stock market is “so explosive it defies imagination.” But when asked whether people should sell to avoid getting burned, he said, “Not really. The train has got a long, long way to go if you think about it.”
  • Ray Dalio agreed and said “cash is trash” during his CNBC and Fox Business broadcast appearances. He remarked that investors shouldn’t miss out on the strength of the current market.

Future of Capitalism – (from this WEF article)

  • According to Marc Benioff, “Capitalism as we have known it is dead. This obsession we have with maximizing profits for shareholders alone has led to incredible inequality and a planetary emergency.”
  • Klaus Schwab argued that this presents opportunity: “Business leaders now have an incredible opportunity. By giving stakeholder capitalism concrete meaning, they can move beyond their legal obligations and uphold their duty to society.”
  • Angela Merkel commented “The whole way that we do business, that we live and that we have grown accustomed to in the industrial age, will have to be changed. We will have to leave that behind us in the next 30 years and we have to come to completely new value chains.”
  • Borrowing from a popular quote on democracy, Niall Ferguson added, “Capitalism is the worst of all possible economic systems, apart from all the others that have been tried from time to time.”
  • Hiromichi Mizuno commented “Companies won't survive if you don't take care of other stakeholders. Japanese companies have been criticized for the last 20 years for not paying enough attention or for not putting shareholders first. Japanese companies used to say the customer first, employees second, shareholders third ... and we've been criticized for that.”
  • Though Dambisa Mayo made headlines by putting the responsibility back into the hands of governments, “It is government's responsibility first and foremost to create an environment, whether it is regulatory or in terms of policy, in which corporations will behave.”
  • On the other side of things, Satya Nadella argued businesses have more to do, “CEOs in today's world have more to do to communicate that stakeholder capitalism is for the shareholders' long-term benefit.” 

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