Davos 2012: The bottom up transformation

Aron Cramer
President and Chief Executive Officer, BSR
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Media coverage of Davos often focuses on the “boldface names” – the CEOs, Prime Ministers and globally recognized artists who help to make the Annual Meeting a worldwide phenomenon. While their presence in Davos is without doubt one of the things that makes this event so unique, it actually obscures another aspect of Davos that tells us a great deal about how the world is changing.

This year’s theme is the Great Transformation. Today’s transformations have very little in common with the grand bargains that have come before. In the 21st century, don’t look for a new Bretton Woods or Westphalia: the real transformations come from the bottom up. They are in the hands of innovators creating new technologies; NGOs that reframe public debates, and individual citizens like the Tunisian fruit vendor who launched the Arab Spring (just as Davos was unfolding last year).

Signs of this world are in abundance across Davos this week. One of the six co-chairs of the Annual Meeting is Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, a company that didn’t even exist a decade ago and famously has more than 500 million users. I’ll be chairing a workshop on “consumers as innovators” , where we will explore the import of consumers’ ability to make products via 3-D printers, mobilize communities of users, and make decisions about what to buy based on sustainability attributes. The NGO cohort at Davos has grown in its presence at the event over the eight years I have been attending, with far greater engagement between NGOs and the world’s biggest companies (tellingly, dialogue between NGOs and governments lags behind the dialogue with business.)

As this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer shows, 2011 brought precipitous declines in the trust placed in government. The Occupy movement showed the breadth and depth of anger at business given the increasing vulnerability of the 99%.

The great transformation will happen in new ways. As governments step back, others need to step up. New economic models are needed to sustain not only the environment, but also opportunity for all.

Governments remain crucial actors, and large businesses can bring change across the globe. But the great transformation will be shaped from the bottom up. The innovators who not only create the vision, but make it real and meet the challenge of taking it to scale will be the real transformers in Davos this week.

Aron Cramer is the President and CEO of BSR

PICTURE: Ali Hussein (L), a 14-year-old who left school, works at a garage in Baghdad November 15, 2011. REUTERS/Saad Shalash

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