In Times of Uncertainty, Positive Narratives Offer Hope to the Economically Displaced

18 Jan 2017

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· Technology can be used to bring people and communities together

· Storytelling gives a voice to people who are often disenfranchised or discriminated against

· Arts and culture can have a unifying role and contribute to peace

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18 January 2017, Davos-Klosters, Switzerland – The outcomes of the US elections, the Brexit referendum and other global changes are challenging old narratives, giving way to uncertainty in many parts of the world. But leading tech and cultural leaders see optimism. “We are in a unique point of time,” said Meg Whitman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, USA, and a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017. “We need to create a new narrative and restore hope for people who have been economically dislocated, especially from technology.”

Although advances in technology have been credited with bringing hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, modernizing medicine and agriculture, and connecting a lot people, there are also negative impacts – the digital have-nots. “Often there is a negative tech narrative,” said Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Washington DC, citing job losses and the displacement of people. She called for identifying positive narratives: “When there is good ownership and partnerships, these fuel being together.”

Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board of Facebook, USA, added that narratives are a core part of creating community and resilience. “To have a shared identity, you have to have some common understanding of your past and some common belief in your future,” she said. Having a name, face and identity are key elements. “When you make it human, this is when we can come together.”

Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Documentary Filmmaker, SOC Films, Pakistan, and a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017, is a good example of someone whose narratives give a voice and a face to women in Pakistan and Afghanistan who have been discriminated against. “Storytelling and narratives are good ways to give voices to people, and for people to understand the issues,” she said. “My work is a vehicle to start conversations and lobby governments to change laws.” After her award-winning documentaries were shown to audiences in Pakistan, the government made stricter laws to address honour killings and acid violence against women.

Working in a country where music was banned for years under the Taliban, Ahmad Sarmast, Founder of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM), uses music to create a positive narrative. “I believe we can change current narratives in Afghanistan through arts and culture,” he said. Sarmast’s music academy brings together boys and girls from different ethnic backgrounds to perform together across the country. “Without investing in the arts, it is impossible to get sustainable peace and security in Afghanistan,” he said.

The 47th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is taking place on 17-20 January in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, under the theme Responsive and Responsible Leadership. More than 3,000 participants from nearly 100 countries will participate in over 400 sessions.

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