Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Davos Agenda: What you need to know about the global economy

A person walks on an empty street as Netherlands has gone into lockdown as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Amsterdam, Netherlands December 15 2020, REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw - RC2RNK9GKJB9

Global economic recovery is dependent on addressing inequality and the environment. Image: REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Samantha Sault
Writer, Washington DC and Geneva
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • COVID-19 and the economic recession have compounded the trade tensions, inequality and uncertainty that marked 2019.
  • The future economy is dependent on addressing inequality and the environment.
  • The Davos Agenda will discuss solutions for making the economy more equitable, sustainable and inclusive.

In May, the world's top risk professionals identified "prolonged recession of the global economy" as the most feared risk of COVID-19.

This was followed by other economic risks: a surge in bankruptcies and wave of industry consolidation, failure of industries or sectors in certain economies to properly recover, high levels of structural unemployment, and weakening of fiscal positions in major economies, among other significant concerns.

COVID-19 risks most likely fallout
The world's top risk professionals fear the economic fallout from COVID-19 the most. Image: World Economic Forum

With the COVID-19 fallout compounded by the trade tensions, inequality and geopolitical concerns that marked 2019, ensuring a swift and sustainable economic recovery is paramount.

From 25-29 January 2021, The Davos Agenda will bring global leaders together to discuss these challenges – and how we can drive equitable, sustainable and inclusive economic recovery.

Have you read?
  • How to follow The Davos Agenda

“Facing the ongoing public health crisis of COVID-19 and the pandemic’s lasting effects on the global economy, policy-makers around the world must take this moment to reflect not just on the immediate recovery, but on how this time can be used to transform their economic systems,” wrote Forum Managing Director Saadia Zahidi.

“Growth and productivity alone are not enough, without addressing inequality and the environment. There is a need to shift policies so that economies make sustainability and social inclusion central to how they function,” she continued.

“This requires not just policies to manage environmental externalities or to build safety nets for people, but also those to spur investments that create the greener, fairer and people-focused markets of tomorrow.”

Where do we go from here?

Building back better must include rebuilding the global economy in a way that’s more equitable, sustainable and inclusive – here's how.

1. Reduce inequality and improve social mobility

“Inequality is rising even in those countries that have experienced rapid growth,” said Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab in the Global Social Mobility Index 2020.

And that was before COVID-19. The pandemic has exacerbated inequality, with the communities most affected by the dual economic and health crises already at a significant disadvantage. An estimated 88 to 115 million people could fall back into extreme poverty as a result, explained the Forum’s Future of Jobs 2020.

In the immediate term, emergency measures to enhance social safety nets remain critically important, as well as equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution to ensure no economies are left behind.

How vaccine distribution matters
Why equitable vaccine distribution matters Image: Financial Times/Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

“Businesses must be a core stakeholder in the efforts around social mobility for their own employees, workers in their value chains and their communities broadly,” said the Global Social Mobility Index.

Specific actions include “a focus on promoting a culture of meritocracy in hiring; active participation in vocational and technical education programmes; providing timely and comprehensive reskilling and upskilling curricula to employees; and paying fair wages that allow employees to meet their basic needs,” along with diversity and inclusion initiatives.

2. Invest in a green recovery

“If economic recovery defaults to a reboot of pre-COVID-19 activities, societies will have missed an important window of opportunity to transition to a more inclusive and greener growth path,” said chief economists surveyed by the Forum.

“As economic policy interventions are transitioning from economic life-support measures to the stimulus phase, governments have a unique opportunity to influence the direction of economic progress through far-reaching innovation and investment strategies,” continued the report. “These new frontier markets include a range from green energy, ecotourism and the circular economy.”

15 transitions in the three socio-economic systems could deliver $10.1 trillion of annual business opportunities and 395 million jobs by 2030
The business case for a green recovery Image: World Economic Forum

For example, upgrading existing buildings to make them more energy efficient can help us tackle the economic and climate crises, explained Kim Fausing, President and CEO of Danfoss. This will not only reduce carbon emissions in a cost-effective way, but also create local jobs.

“According to the IEA, an estimated 9-30 jobs would be created for every million dollars invested in energy efficiency measures in the building sector and many of these jobs could be created quickly. As much as 60% of expenditure on home energy efficiency retrofits could be allocated to labour, activating local value chains and boosting the economy,” Fausing said.

3. Ensure markets are inclusive and work for all stakeholders

“Despite greater stability since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, even before the effects of the pandemic, the financial system displayed some fragility, with issues including increased corporate debt risk and unequal access to finance,” wrote the Forum’s Zahidi.

“Market concentration has been on an increasing trend in advanced economies, with large productivity and profitability gaps between the top companies and all others in each sector,” said last year’s special edition of the Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report. “Trade openness and the international movement of people have been on a declining trend since the financial crisis.”

Trends in extent of market dominance, selected economies and economic groups, 2008–2020
Why market dominance matters. Image: World Economic Forum

To ensure markets remain stable in the long term, we must expand access and inclusion, transforming them from a shareholder model to a stakeholder model.

“Countries should rethink competition and anti-trust frameworks to lower barriers to entry and enhance competition and vibrant business models," continued Zahidi. “Countries must also prioritize financial stability while introducing incentives for companies to engage in long-term, sustainable and inclusive investments, focusing on new thresholds for ESG standards."

What to watch during Davos Agenda

From 25-29 January, join us for special addresses, leadership panels and impact sessions that will address many of the challenges discussed above, including:

  • Restoring Economic Growth, Monday 25 January 09:00-09:45 and 17:15-18:00
  • Advancing a New Social Contract, Monday 25 January 11:00-11:45
  • Accelerating a Real Economy-Led Recovery, Wednesday 27 January 12:00-13:00 and 18:00-19:00

You can watch the livestreamed sessions here.

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Related topics:
Equity, Diversity and InclusionEconomic GrowthFinancial and Monetary SystemsForum Institutional
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