The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos concluded at the end of last week, just as a new global vision was inaugurated in the US. The contrast between the two was stark.
Davos is often criticized and ridiculed. It is portrayed as an opulent gathering where global elites cut deals and extol the virtues of capitalism and free trade. "Davos Man" preaches globalization while ignoring the grievances of those worst hit by it.
As the CEO of a global organization dedicated to working on the world’s toughest challenges – conflict, fragility, refugees, extreme poverty – I don’t identify with Davos Man. This is not the Davos I know.
It may sound corny to some but the Davos I know cares deeply about the mission of its organizer, the World Economic Forum: improving the state of the world. My Davos week was spent planning how we can eliminate hunger today for 800 million people, and then nutritiously feed 8.5 million people by 2030. My Davos has launched concrete initiatives that have improved the lives of millions of small farmers.
My Davos focused on opening up access for more than two billion people who can’t get basic financial services. It grappled with humanitarian challenges – like how to meet the needs of over 65 million refugees, or pushing for an inclusive peace in Syria. My Davos honored Nobel Peace Prize winner, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos – highlighting how enlightened political leadership and private investment can stabilize fragile economies and accelerate peace efforts.
Davos is easy to criticize and parody. Sure, there is excess and hot air. Diversity, especially gender, remains a real issue. More humility would help. But, at its heart, Davos believes that our actions today need to consider the world we want for our children and theirs. It believes that the biggest global challenges can only be addressed when everyone is brought together to focus on solutions: leaders from governments, the international system, business, civil society – and, most importantly, the voices of the poorest and most vulnerable themselves.
So, yes, Davos attracts an elite – but it’s not elitist. It knows that there are no shiny solutions or fast fixes for today's unprecedented challenges. We face a period of unbelievably rapid change. Technology will drive almost unimaginable disruption and possibility. Traditional global institutions may wither. Political, social and environmental systems may flounder. Old approaches simply no longer work.
So if, like me, you believe that these challenges demand global stewardship; if you believe that a connected world that shares mutual responsibility is better than a Hobbesian one of national interest ‘all-against-all’; if you believe in the dignity of each person and a seamless web of compassion that includes all of us – then, yes, Davos does indeed matter.
Perhaps more today than ever.