Davos Agenda

What kind of growth do we want? Why growth means different things to different people

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Leaders at the Growth Summit 2023 gave their insights on the kind of growth they want.

Leaders at the Growth Summit 2023 gave their insights on the kind of growth they want. Image: ©?World Economic Forum/Pascal Bi

Gayle Markovitz
Acting Head, Written and Audio Content, World Economic Forum
Natalie Marchant
Writer, Forum Agenda
  • Leaders and experts at the World Economic Forum's Growth Summit 2023 called for inclusive, sustainable and resilient growth.
  • But as the world faces deep economic uncertainty and a disrupted jobs outlook, what does the term 'growth' actually mean?
  • From urbanization to AI for productivity, 10 leaders outline what growth means to them and their communities.

Amid deep economic uncertainty and a jobs outlook that is set to be upended, leaders and experts at the Growth Summit called for inclusive, sustainable and resilient growth.

But what does that mean and how do we achieve it?

History shows that 40 years of neoliberal economic policy has led to growth – but it's come at the cost of rising inequality and a planet in the midst of a climate crisis.

Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere

Gilbert Houngbo, Director-General, International Labour Organization.

"Poverty anywhere is a threat to prosperity everywhere,” said Gilbert Houngbo, Director-General, International Labour Organization.

What was clear in every conversation is that growth means different things depending on who you are and where you are in the world. In some African countries, growth is urbanization.

In parts of Middle East, growth is represented by an increasingly diversified economy.

Have you read?

Growth is about the potential of AI and automation to tackle productivity.

Growth is the historic right to develop with all the socioeconomic benefits that brings.

And growth is linked to resilience.

From ethical AI to a just climate transition and urbanization to the diversification of supply chains, here's what leaders said at the Growth Summit about what kind of growth they want for the future.


'Crack the code on inclusive growth'

Faisal Alibrahim, Minister of Economy and Planning, Ministry of Economy and Planning of Saudi Arabia

With AI, we are cautiously optimistic. We see that there is a lot of opportunity for regulation. Hopefully we will see the best of this. We want to see growth that is based on people and ideas. It needs to be sustainable growth...


With the intersection of economic opportunity, social responsibility and social development globally... the intersection of these three things is what we call inclusive growth. It would be a shame and a waste if we don't take advantage of this. If we don't crack the code on inclusive growth.

'Inclusive growth as a long-term goal'

Laura D'Andrea Tyson, Distinguished Professor of the Graduate School, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley


So there is a cost of living crisis. Its ongoing. They're working full-time, sometimes they're are working two jobs. Sometimes, everybody in the house is working. And the minimum wage that society provides is not high enough, and therefore there is no living standard protection. That's a long-term problem. It's not a cyclical problem.

It is certainly true that the short term increase in inflation... has hit those families very hard. But we have to think about this inclusive growth as a long-term goal. We have to think about how we do our growth strategies to try to make sure that they are inclusive.

‘Growth means different things to different people’

Richard Baldwin, Professor of International Economics, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

There’s a large number of people in the world where, if their son breaks their arm, and it gets complicated, he dies.

That’s the way a lot of people live and for them, getting income above $10 a day, being able to have some form of security, owning some property or a house – that’s what growth is.


Growth or GDP per capita is not a measure of socioeconomic welfare, but it’s correlated with an awful lot of those measures – especially in the bottom half of the world income distribution.

So the degrowth narrative, I think, makes a lot of sense to a lot of people, but for a lot of the world they still need GDP to rise because they don’t have the material conditions for a decent lifestyle.

'Urbanization a key driver of growth in Africa'

Erika Kraemer Mbula, Professor of Economics, University of Johannesburg

Urbanization is one of the most visible transformations in the African landscape. It's happening faster than in other regions.


What is the World Economic Forum doing to promote sustainable urban development?

African cities are growing faster, some of the fastest growing cities in the world. And they‘re also the youngest in terms of the population. So, it's estimated about 40% of the workforce is going to be in Africa, most of them living in cities in the next 20 years.


There’s a recent report by the OECD and the African Development Bank that highlights the positive contributions that living in cities for the population and the residents, in terms of increasing the living standards and the socioeconomic outcomes.

And that, when you compare the performance of some variables of people living in cities as compared to the national average, that difference between living in cities and the national average is larger. In Africa. So this positive impact of urbanization.

‘Youth don’t want to hear about just growth anymore’

Gilbert Fossoun Houngbo, Director-General, International Labour Organization (ILO)

I think when we talk only about economic growth – is what the youth, the youngsters don’t want to hear anymore.


We need to really start saying that you have three pillars that have to move side by side – economic growth, protecting Mother Nature and the environment, and social spending.

We need growth – for me it's very clear from my own perspective, we need the growth – but that growth should not be looked at an isolated way as if that later on it will take care of the social and the environment.

'AI can be a significant driver of productivity and growth'

Mihir Shukla, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer, Automation Anywhere, Inc.

"So the way the maths works is that in order to meet GDP targets, we have to increase our productivity by 50%. That is the only way that we can make all social structure work.

"Now, let us put that into perspective. In the last 60 years, we had computers, internet, mobile devices and every software ever written. Does anybody have an idea of how to produce 50 % more productivity on top of that?


"And if we don't, there's a direct correlation on not being able to produce enough and riots on the streets. Because when there is not enough to go around, that's what happens.

"If we want to figure out a way to operate countries and societies we have to tackle this productivity challenge. And AI and automation, they're not the only ones, they are significant growth and productivity drivers.

'Growth is tied into the concept of a just climate transition'

Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, Ministry of International Cooperation of Egypt

Egypt is president of COP27 until next November. We had the conference in Sharm-el-Sheikh and one of the key themes for us was the just transition.

The word ‘just’ is very important, as it means honouring the historic right of countries to develop – development means growth, jobs – and at the same time, making sure there is just financing to be able to avoid the dilemma [of economic inclusion and carbon emission reductions].


One of the things we're doing on a national level is to ensure that our national strategies include national goals that are in line with global goals. For instance, our 2050 climate strategy is one that shows climate and development are not mutually exclusive.

We have objectives which are aligned with the SDGs, we try to ensure that whether we are looking at the energy transition or adaptation – which is very important for countries, particularly in Africa, be it the water scarcity, be it also agriculture, is extremely important.

'Skills key to Singapore's ongoing economic success'

Gog Soon Joo, Chief Skills Officer, SkillsFuture Singapore

Essentially, when we look at a competitive economy, we know very clearly that we need a competitive workforce.

To do so, every few years when we plan ahead with the private sector on a sectoral basis, we ask them about what business direction they are going to: Is it going into internationalisation? Is it going for digitalisations? So the business strategy must be supported by talent and skills strategy.


It is a highly coordinated effort – private sector, public sectors. We have The Future Economy Council, co-chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and private sector heads, and they deliberate on this future economy, and they cascade down to an industry transformation plan.

Every industry has an industry transmission plan, where part of it is the talent and skills. Once we unveil that talent and skill strategy, it will almost immediately translate into insights for universities, polytechnics, and technical education. We also look at how the incumbent workforces need to be very quickly reskilled.”

'Growth for us means an increasingly diversified economy'

Rashed Al Blooshi, Undersecretary, Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development

The establishment of the country was in 1970 and at that time the economy was very basic, so within time we had oil in our country. So we managed to use the sources of the oil to build the infrastructure of the country, the city. Today when we look at Abu Dhabi specifically it is one of the most advanced infrastructure worldwide.

And now it takes us to be third phase of development of the economy, which is having a vision to diversify our economy away from oil. As we talk today, 51% of the economy in Abu Dhabi depends on oil, 49% depends on non-oil.


How is the World Economic Forum facilitating the transition to clean energy?


We have a very clear statement from the president of the United Arab Emirates, we need to celebrate the last barrel of oil. When we introduce that, we need to have a strong and well-diversified economy.

What does that mean for us? We put a strategy, a vision, to have an economy realising three main things – sustainable growth, innovation, knowledge-based economy. Based on that, all sectors related to non-oils are important."

'Growth and resilience are inextricably linked'

Naoko Ishii, Director, Center for Global Commons, The University of Tokyo

“I was so puzzled and outraged with the underlying assumption that growth and resilience are at odds or not compatible because what we have learned the last decade or so, is that sustainable growth needs to incorporate resilience, a lot of elements which is helping the resilience.

“The entire world has already learned that we cannot just continue the very linear growth, only just nominal GDP kind of growth. And that is why in 2015 we had the SDGs, we had the Paris Agreement to incorporate those elements, which the current economic model kind of ignored.


“So at that high cost, we have learned how to incorporate resilience with a natural system, related to climate change, but also how to incorporate a social system, with human capital, because we learned so much and it is so important.

“We need to see that sustainable growth, without resilience, will not be doing the right thing for the future.”

'Crack the code on inclusive growth''Inclusive growth as a long-term goal'‘Growth means different things to different people’'Urbanization a key driver of growth in Africa'‘Youth don’t want to hear about just growth anymore’'AI can be a significant driver of productivity and growth''Growth is tied into the concept of a just climate transition''Skills key to Singapore's ongoing economic success''Growth for us means an increasingly diversified economy''Growth and resilience are inextricably linked'

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