Another year, another WEF. This year, delegates will be gathering on the Swiss slopes of Davos to discuss how to “create a shared future in a fractured world”. The aim of the event is to “rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world”. We’ve asked a selection of leaders for their thoughts on how this can be achieved.
Adrian Brown, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Impact
In their description of this year’s theme for Davos, the World Economic Forum states that “the social contract between states and their citizens continues to erode”. While clearly there is some truth in this I’d urge Davos participants to also consider the many positive examples of governments around the world that are genuinely “creating a shared future in a fractured world”.
For example, how Helsinki is involving citizens in decision-making, how Malaysia’s TN50 programme has engaged 1.7 million young people, and how innovation is being encouraged at the frontline of South Africa’s public services. The narrative that government is hopelessly out-of-touch, inefficient and failing citizens may prove popular on the slopes of Klosters but it’s simply not true. To address the real challenges we face, recognising and learning from government successes will be far more helpful than simply rearticulating the problem.
Holly Ransom, CEO of Emergent and former chair of the G20 Youth Summit
The role of intergenerational leadership and partnerships needs to be front and centre. Research suggests part of the fracturing we need to remedy is a generational one – the younger generation have the lowest levels of institutional trust of any generation, feel let down by the broken social contract of a now highly fractured and fragmented path from education to employment (all too often characterised by protracted unemployment or precarious gig economy work) and, depending on the economy, are confronting skyrocketing student debt and prohibitive housing prices.
However, responsibility rests on our shoulders too. Professor Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, powerfully phrased the challenge facing the 50% of the world’s population under age of 27 when he said: “You are the first generation to face the impact of the decisions being made by your predecessors, and the last generation that can do something about it.” For our part, we young leaders need to do more to understand the competing trade-offs and systemic realities facing current leaders so our interventions can be framed more realistically and constructively. This aspiration can be served by seeking to more regularly collaborate and coalesce with individuals and organisations from across business, academia and civil society, shifting the conversation from ‘youth issues’ to be about broader economic, political and social issues over which we all have shared ownership and responsibility.
To arrive at any kind of shared vision of the future, let alone to ensure implementation and action, we have to begin with shared understanding and mutual respect – and that’s something leaders at all levels of society and of all generations can make a more conscious intention in 2018 and beyond.
Vincent Chin, Global Public Sector Leader, The Boston Consulting Group
As we gather in Davos, the world is experiencing a confluence of profound disruptions – the digital revolution, demographic changes and the backlash from increasingly larger numbers disenfranchised groups in society, to name but three. This means there is much for governments to do in order create a bright future in a fractured world.
Firstly, they need to get their industries competitive, which includes encouraging adoption of digital technologies, data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning. They also need to figure out the smart way to regulate new business models and deal with resulting job losses as well as the need for new skills – which means that education and indeed the entire human capital development systems need to be revamped.
And governments themselves need to move into the 21st century and start delivering services better (including digitally) and to do so with less (as fiscal conditions of countries deteriorate in slower economic growth).
Dr Vanessa Kerry, chief executive, SEED Global Health
Everyone is born with the same potential but, unfortunately, not with the same opportunity – something that should be on the mind of all those in Davos this week.
As I have engaged the communities we serve at Seed Global Health, I have seen firsthand the impact of unequal opportunity on individuals, communities, and countries. At Seed, we believe everyone should have an equal ability to access high-quality healthcare, regardless of where they are born or their socioeconomic background. Yet without more health care workers, we will never be able to provide that opportunity to all and achieve the “shared future” that WEF is this year aiming to help deliver.
Tony Banbury, board member, The Centre for Public Impact
During the Cold War, the bi-polar nature of the world order created a tendency towards stasis, with countries on one side or the other of a dividing line or, often tenuously, in a non-aligned group. Movement from one group to another was not common or easy, usually coming about only through revolution or war.
Since the end of the Cold War and the move towards a multi-polar world, countries are much freer to choose their own course and destiny. Notwithstanding all the advantages of this evolution, it has resulted in a fracturing of the world order.
Mitigating against this fracturing is the progressive advancement of principles and standards of universal human rights, democratic representation and the rule of law. While there is still a long way to go, the progress made should not be underestimated.
And no organisation or group of states deserves more credit for this enormously impactful evolution than the United Nations. On a day to day basis, the UN does tremendously good work around the world, and at the same time suffers from its own challenges. But one of the UN’s greatest accomplishments is largely unheralded – the progressive development of globally accepted norms and expectations regarding how human beings should be treated and governed. In a fractured world, the universal values promulgated by the United Nations are an essential glue that bind us all together and create a broadly common vision for a shared future.
Dr Leila Hoteit, partner and managing director, The Boston Consulting Group
There is no hope of “creating a shared future” without creating a better gender balance in the world of work – but unfortunately, there is a huge amount still to do. WEF’s most recent global gender gap report found that the gulf between male and female opportunity had widened for the first time since it started gathering data in 2006, and even here in Davos, just over 20% of 3,000 delegates are expected to be women. It’s not all bad news; for the first time in WEF’s 48-year history, this week’s summit will be co-chaired by seven women.
In addition, the rise of flexible work options and teleworking could help more women to enter and stay in the workforce. In one study, a quarter of female leaders cited flexible working – such as compressed working time, staggered hours within a fixed schedule, and longer lunch breaks – as the most helpful factor in advancing their careers. There are also encouraging signs that many companies are taking on a newfound importance in employing, training and leveraging female talent.
However, more deliberate efforts will also be needed to meet talent requirements and address gender gaps. Governments, individuals and companies need to ensure that the full talent pool of men and women is educated, recruited and promoted.
Sir David Bell, Vice-Chancellor of The University of Reading
Over many generations, education has been a pathway out of poverty. That applies as much to developed, as well as emerging nations. From children benefiting from universal and free basic education to first-in-family teenagers going to university, a stake in the future is on offer.
History and experience shows that higher levels of learning can also provide a breadth of outlook and a sense of common purpose. What better way then to heal divisions and bring people together than through investment in education?
Dag Detter, Senior Advisor to The Boston Consulting Group
Urbanisation is one of the key megatrends reshaping our world around us. But as urban populations grow, city planners must become more adept at budgeting for the long-term. And there is no better way to do that than by using the assets that are already in place.
Unfortunately, most cities do not currently assess the market value of their economic assets. It doesn’t have to be this way. Unlocking the public value of poorly utilised real estate or monetising its transportation and utility assets – smarter asset management, in other words – would yield a return that would enable it to more than double its infrastructure investments – without needing to opt for privatization, raise taxes or cut spending elsewhere.
Nicola Forster, President and Founder of foraus, the Swiss Forum on Foreign Policy, and co-Founder of staatslabor
This so-called “shared future in a fractured world” asks for more public participation in decision-making. Thanks to digitisation, bottom-up platforms increasingly outperform top-down hierarchies and traditional business models. We can see this development in the platform economy, which is already in full swing. Now public policy has to follow suit.