• We risk a generation of 'crushed dreams' unless jobs growth rebounds, warns Christine Lagarde.
  • The successful businesses of the future will combine digital transformation and responsible practices, according to the CEO of Accenture.
  • The Pioneers of Change summit, Nov 16-20, will explore the innovations needed to build back better from the pandemic.

While the daily toll of new cases and fatalities shows that the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging on, a glimmer of hope has arrived in the form of encouraging vaccine data.

It’s against this backdrop that leaders gathered for the World Economic Forum’s inaugural Pioneers of Change virtual summit.

Kicking off the discussions, Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, paid tribute to the successful vaccine results from Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech. Vaccines these companies are developing proved to be around 95% and 90% effective respectively against the new coronavirus, according to early results.

“We were standing on one side of a massive river of uncertainty and hardship… thanks to the tremendous hard work of companies in the US, Germany and other corners of the world we’re now seeing the other side of the river,” LaGarde said in the opening plenary of the Pioneers summit.

However, crossing the choppy water would be a struggle necessitating both private sector innovation and a “policy bridge” to help countries recover from the worst economic shock in generations.

“If we get the policy mix right, hopefully we will protect the economy in the aggregate, but we will not prevent it from being transformed. We need to focus on that so that those transformations are not scars but transformations for the better,” she said.

A generation of young job-seekers risked having their “dreams crushed” without a rebound in jobs growth in the private sector, LaGarde warned. Investment in Research & Development would be crucial.

Reflecting on the role of business in powering a recovery, Julie Sweet, the Chief Executive Officer of Accenture, brought in three numbers:

80% of companies that Accenture surveyed were going to invest in digital transformation.

62% of C-suite executives believed that as they transform, they need to have more responsible business practices. This meant focusing on sustainability, talent and the SDGs.

Only 3% chose to combine digital transformation with a focus on responsible business.

The most successful companies of the future would combine those two goals, Sweet argued.

But amid the promise of digital transformation, Luis Alberto Moreno, former president of the Inter-American Development Bank, warned that vast swathes of the population risked being left behind.

“In the case of emerging markets, not every country has the possibility of having all its society connected. There is a huge divide that we need to be mindful of. 50% of people in Latin America do not have access to high quality connectivity,” he said.

With innovation on the agenda for the week at the Pioneers of Change summit, Cameron Hepburn, Director and Professor of Environmental Economics at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE), spoke of the need to “create new competitive opportunities.”

“If you’re not generating big social benefits, you’re not solving a problem, you’re license to make a lot of money isn’t so robust,” he said.

Professor Hepburn singled out the rapidly declining cost of electrolysis, a crucial part of making renewable power work, as the most exciting development on the horizon.

In the context of “developing the region through peace”, Mohammad Abdullah Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs of the United Arab Emirates, spoke of this critical time in human history and the opportunities for “fast-forwarding” human potential.

“We’ve changed because it’s time to change. With COVID, we reinvented ourselves, for us it is a time of opportunity. We have a dedicated minister looking at distant learning, telemedicine and other developments. This is the future.”

He also spoke of the technology gap defining the winners and the losers in the years to come and said, “Technology is how you disseminate knowledge to humanity. How you fight extremism through knowledge. Either they win or we win. For us as a state, it’s a state of mind. We need to improve the lives of kids in this region and give them hope.”

To follow the week’s discussions between innovators around the world, you can sign up here.