Chief Executive Officer at Contextere
As you would have probably noticed if you follow our social channels contextere was invited to attend the prestigious Davos conference hosted each year by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Normally that would have meant a welcome trip to Switzerland for yours truly but thanks to COVID19 this year was virtual.
Nevertheless Professor Klaus Schwab and team put together an amazing week long event. Just a quick look as some of the numbers illustrate the influence and reach of WEF – participants from 80 countries including 24 heads of Government plus 560 CEO’s and over 1000 reporters.
Contextere is a member of the WEF Global Innovators Community which is an invitation-only group of the worlds most promising start-ups and scale-ups that are at the forefront of technological and business model innovation. That enabled us to have a seat at the table and we were honoured to have the opportunity.
The World Economic Forum does an excellent job documenting their initiatives so I will not try to capture the weeks events here. However, I will briefly share my favourite moments, talk AI, discuss the ‘Davos crowd’ and share my thoughts on the promise of WEF.
My Favourite Moments
It started right off the bat with the Day 1 address by the President of China Xi Jinping. The complexity and of geo-politics was in full effect as his speech included powerful arguments for globalism mixed with what I would consider lightly veiled threats toward the United States. Later in the week President Vladimir Putin’s address was more surreal – if you only read the words you may have thought they stole President Biden’s talking points. However, I see that as a positive since global security and prosperity required the biggest of tents and requires dialogue that transcends borders, ideologies and historical differences.
In terms of concrete actions I would suggest you take a close work at the reskilling revolution, racial justice initiative and Dr. Schwab’s explicit push for the evolution of our shared economics interests to stakeholder capitalism. You will find these initiatives and many more on the Forum’s website and I think you will be impressed by their vision, specificity and outcomes.
Unilever is a great example of companies and leaders being bold (and human) and beyond that engaging in that discourse publicly in support of sustainable growth be it through financial inequity or climate change. That trend is much more prevalent after many of the fundamental challenges COVID19 presented in 2020 and the trend must continue.
As you might expect from a transformational force AI was prevalent in the discussion across many different themes. Thankfully over the last few years the debate have moved beyond simply automation and trended towards discussions on how AI can augment human ingenuity. The promise of AI to transform education, industry and citizens lives was inspiring.
Of course that promise comes with hard work and a responsibility to deploy the technology in a responsible way. Along those lines one of the best AI specific sessions was focused on ethics and the potential unintended consequences. AI is a foundational technology and as such practitioners of the craft have a unique responsibility to embrace ethics, leadership, diversity and inclusion – the human stuff! In today’s cultural environment can private companies lead the charge (naturally more agile) or does Government have to lead (for the public trust)? The technology part to some extent is easy in comparison to the human human dimensions that requires the really hard thinking and work.
The “Davos” Crowd
Ever since I first became engaged with the WEF something that always irritated me a bit was the perception that the ‘Davos’ crowd is simply a bunch of elites and globalists sipping martinis pontificating about the state of the world while quietly lining their 1% pockets. What I can share from my personal experience is that perception is off the mark.
The source of that sentiment can be attributed to the reality that ‘words matter’ and sometimes the language of crowd can use improvement. Things as simple as framing the skills challenge in terms of low skill jobs versus low skill workers – a distinction with a difference. All humans are skilled with individual variation found in the difference is in access to education, training and technology. Or when Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff remarked that the last year had shown that some CEO’s were heroes I cringed. Although I agree with the intent (business is a force for good and CEO’s are not inherently evil) I would have phrased it differently – CEO’s enabled & empowered heroes within their organizations during the pandemic. That often involved hard decisions and decisive leadership but the greater good became the shared purpose.
The WEF in my opinion is not an elite club but a volunteer group of interested committed individuals and organizations who sincerely want to make the world a better place for everyone on the planet. For that to grow we also need to ensure that when companies do express views on those key topics is they are not punished when they do so. There will be different opinions and models for addressing any particular issue and that should be not only tolerated but embraced. Are their people who are very wealthy and companies that are very large involved in WEF? Of course but success should not preclude you from being a good actor nor should we not want to broadly learn from that experience for the greater good. And there are plenty of people (like me) from all walks of life who live in every corner of the world who have a voice at WEF.
For politicians and the media I hope they try to steer clear of the labels and focus on the mission, outcomes and dedicated people involved. You do a disservice to democracy and free trade when you deride for political purposes an organization like WEF to score political points. That is ultimately providing misinformation to citizens and voters – and have we not all had enough of that? An open mind and even more so a willingness to change your mind needs to stop being seen as a weakness but rather as a strength. In today’s environment there are too many entrenched positions and “sides” where the search is not for knowledge or action but “winning” the argument.
My final thought is that it’s only through collaboration between countries, companies and citizens that we can rapidly make meaningful change. The World Economic Forum is one of the few places all of those groups interact in a structured, meaningful and consistent way. So a big thank you to Dr. Schwab and the entire WEF team for an enjoyable and impactful event!