There’s a healthy debate around what exactly is the true impact of the Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos.
It is clear that, by bringing together a diverse range of leaders, exposing them to compelling and sometimes uncomfortable content and giving them space to think beyond their usual time horizon (usually financial reporting/electoral cycles), we hope we can spark new ideas for positive, long-term change.
This is well summed up by Albert Alemanno this week, who said “rather than providing solutions, the ‘Davos method’ plays a subtler role of changing the social norm by pressurizing the elites to be agents of the change the world needs.” In recent years, the Forum has successfully steered the agenda in a number of areas, from plastic in the ocean to the looming jobs crisis and inclusive growth. This year, we tried to persuade people to eat less meat.
But I would argue that the Forum goes beyond this goal of shifting mindsets, especially in the past two years since it formally became an international institute under Swiss law. By adopting a strategy built around systems leadership, and having identified 14 distinct areas where public-private cooperation is most needed, the organization has built a platform that increasingly enables leaders to take solid action. Here are some of the achievements of this year’s Annual Meeting:
Partnerships for action
You don’t just need boots on the ground to make an impact, although it sometimes helps. At the meeting, France and Peru launched gender parity taskforces, a Forum-originated initiative that has already helped close the gender gap by upwards of 10% in a number of countries around the world. Peru also signed up a scheme to close the country’s digital divide based on our Internet for All blueprint (currently being implemented in parts of Africa and Latin America.
Other countries supported the Forum’s work around the Fourth Industrial Revolution. India, Japan and the United Arab Emirates announced plans to break ground on centers for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, adding to the network first started in San Francisco in 2017. Meanwhile, Bahrain and the United Kingdom agreed to collaborate with the Centers on various projects in a bid to stay in the vanguard of technological advancements in fields such as AI while Denmark and Saudi Arabia went one step further, partnering with the Forum on 4IR and a number of other areas including in the case of the latter, a new Global Centre for Cybersecurity.
Addressing the world’s challenges means thinking – and acting - big. This means scaling up pilot projects that come from ideas so they can have a meaningful impact on people’s lives. In this spirit a number of the world’s largest companies including Alphabet, The Coca Cola Company, Royal Philips and Unilever team with the governments of China, Indonesia and elsewhere to tackle e-waste, plastics pollution and other environmental scourges (last year, Davos saw the launch of the world’s first fully recyclable shampoo bottle).
Business also, unsurprisingly, stepped up to back our Closing the Skills Gap initiative, which aims to give at least 10 million people new skills by 2020. This is helpful because we already know the skills displaced workers will need to develop new and better quality work in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: all we need now is to find ways of paying for and delivering them.
Increasingly the Forum’s model for public-private cooperation is providing a platform – and inspiration - for other actors to make a difference. The social entrepreneurs behind CitiesRISE which aims to provide affordable mental health support for 1 billion young people in the developing world by 2030. Or the two CEOs that teamed up to deploy 50,000 community health workers across Africa. Or Common Goal, a scheme co-founded by footballer Juan Mata that encourages footballers to divert a portion of their salaries towards anti-poverty schemes.
Of course there’s just no way of keeping track of all the ideas, action points and announcements that happen over a four day period. Very few people, for example, could have guessed that the idea for a new BRICS development bank came about in Davos, until it surfaced in the news four years later. With some luck we will learn in years to come of other plans hatched in 2018 that have contributed to building the inclusive, sustainable future that we urgently need.