Davos Agenda

Partnerships and interdependence can triumph over nationalism and isolationism. Here's how

An aerial view of the Haveli Bahadur Shah LNG power plant in Jhang, Pakistan July 7, 2017.

An aerial view of the Haveli Bahadur Shah LNG power plant Image: REUTERS/Drazen Jorgic

Rachel Duan
President and Chief Executive Officer, GE Global Growth Organization; Senior Vice-President, GE
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • Around the world, thousands of projects are fostering partnerships and collaboration.
  • Interdependence can be a counterweight to the politics of isolationism.
  • This multiplicity of human connections is a welcome cause for optimism.

Consider the towns of Bhikki, Balloki, and Haveli Bahadur Shah, located on the fertile plains of the Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

During 2017 and 2018, thousands of people from more than 35 countries worked together – contributing expertise and a range of skills – to construct three power plants in these towns. Today, these three plants have been in operation for more than a year, contributing up to 3,600 megawatts (MW) of electricity to Pakistan’s grid and helping meet the equivalent energy needs of more than 7 million homes.

Engineers, project managers, technical experts and even government employees worked hand-in-hand on these extremely complex and time-constrained projects, despite coming from diverse cultures and companies.

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Consider all the relationships built over that time, as people worked together – both on the ground in Pakistan and remotely. Meeting around hot cups of tea or huddled over phone speakers, they collaborated across borders and time zones, national frontiers, language barriers and corporate cultures - and resolved issues, solved engineering challenges, and hastened progress.

Now, imagine this project multiplied thousands of times around the world. You can almost visualize the web of human connections and shared purpose.

It’s important to keep this image in mind as we look beyond today’s geopolitics to the bonds of partnership and interdependence being forged among individuals, companies, and countries every day by private-sector business activity and public-private partnerships. This interdependence stands as a powerful counterweight to the fracturing forces of nationalism and isolationism.

Links in the supply chain

Across the globe, people are cooperating on shared projects, including some like the three Pakistani power plants. On others, they may work together every day, but remotely, using videoconferencing or text messaging, as they build software or design and manufacture products.

They also might be linked in a common commercial endeavour through an international supply chain with tributaries flowing from a number of countries. Irrespective of what part, component, commodity, or material they produce or grow, they are linked by a shared interest in building something that benefits society.

Those supply chains are built year after year by businesses, whether large multinationals, regional conglomerates, local companies or even small start-ups. And they connect us all, creating bonds that help us navigate a more volatile world.

Localization that connects

Even beyond supply chains, however, companies are connecting people through 'localization' efforts such as joint ventures, research and development laboratories, manufacturing plants, maintenance and repair facilities, and equipment monitoring and diagnostic centres. Established outside a company’s home country, these facilities often reflect a direct foreign investment of not only financial capital, but human capital as well. This takes time and true dedication to the local ecosystem. It can’t be faked by a quick investment or a vaguely worded memorandum of understanding. It requires companies to consider with great deliberation the markets in which they will 'go deep'.

Localization brings people together because it involves the exchange of experts, technologies and local knowledge. That last item, local knowledge, is essential to successful localization, which is predicated on building a deep understanding of the local culture. This can only happen through honest cooperation and continual communication that ensures nothing is lost in translation.

Fostering optimism

I underscore the multiplicity of human connections, nurtured through cross-border business, because it's easy to be pessimistic in today’s environment. Across the world, people are losing trust in institutions.

The reality, however, is much brighter. Relationships and partnerships across borders, cultures and languages are being built and sustained every day. People are shaking hands and collaborating in a million other ways across the globe to build great things. Crucially, what they are building is more than any single project, product or service. They are building our collective future; one that represents a powerful counter-narrative to the doom and gloom-filled headlines and social media feeds.

We must continue to highlight this point: rather than being a cause of populist and isolationist drift, public and private sector actions – together – are an engine of interconnection, partnership, possibility and promise. The thousands of people from dozens of nations and cultures who worked to launch the Bhikki, Balloki and Haveli Bahadur Shah power plants stand in testament to this.

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