• As sherpa of the @B20, Stormy-Annika Mildner brings the voice of business to the #G20
  • Without sherpas building early consensus, multilateral success at the #G20 is far less likely
  • Accountability and transparency have been among the priorities of this year's @B20

Don’t think for a moment that the G20 is a two-day wonder. Sure, the leaders of the G20 governments may be gathering in Hamburg today, but the actual process underpinning the summit began some 18 months ago.

For Stormy-Annika Mildner, who is the “Sherpa” of the B20 – the engagement group representing the business community of G20 countries – picking up the baton signalled the start of a “once in a lifetime” experience, as thrilling as it was daunting.

“It’s the kind of thing that only comes around once,” she admits. “Being responsible for organising the B20 is both a huge honour and a really big responsibility, especially given that the current political and economic climate is so unstable. This means that the engagement groups like ours play a really important role. Our membership has great unity on issues like climate change and trade, and presenting this unity as one collective voice to the G20 leaders has become even more important.”

Shining a diplomatic light

It’s a good thing that Mildner is a people person. Hers is a role that demands patience and diplomacy, tact and communication. Combine such traits with a distinguished academic background and fluent English and it is easy to see why she was appointed.

That said, it’s no role for the faint-hearted. Sherpas are at the very heart of the action. A permanent feature of the diplomatic circuit, they do the heavy lifting and nitty-gritty negotiating that precedes any major get-together. Without their early presence smoothing the path towards consensus, any chance of multilateral success recedes into the distance. No wonder that Mildner felt the burden of responsibility when she took on the role.

She is keen to stress that, from day one, uppermost in her mind has been the need for transparency. “When we started thinking about the process and the dialogue engagement, we wanted to be as open as possible,” she recalls. “One of our goals was to be very clear about the whole process, not only towards the public but also towards our own members: what we are doing, how the decision-making process works, which events we are organising, and so on. This is because there has been a feeling in the past that the B20 has had special access and been treated differently than the other G20 engagement groups.”

Such groups cover a wide variety of interests and priorities – as befits the grouping representing 85% of the global economy, 80% of world trade, and two-thirds of the global population. In addition to the B20, there are also non-governmental organisations (Civil20), trade unions (Labour20), academia (Science20), thinktanks (Think20), women (Women20) and youth (Youth20). All have a chance to present their viewpoints and submit their reports to the G20.

Bringing people together

As part of the B20’s drive to be more accountable to their 700 representatives across the G20 countries, Mildner and her colleagues have been actively engaging them and asking them what they want to see, particularly via social media and their web page. “The G20 business community will never be able to represent everybody,” she admits. “Finding a collective opinion, though, is important. That’s why we spend a lot of time finding consensus.”

But that’s far easier said than done – particularly when an organisation has different roles to fulfil. To the G20, the B20 has to speak with one voice and give policy recommendations which are both actionable and innovative. But it also needs to build understanding and trust within its community of business leaders. “This is not always easy, because we don’t see each other that often,” says Mildner. “We had a conference in Berlin at the start of the process, one at the OECD and then the summit itself. We have had plenty of conference calls, but that’s not the same as face to face. Nonetheless, the B20 is a great place to build relationships across borders and even lifelong friendships.”

Ordinarily, the B20 and G20 take place at the same time, but this time Chancellor Merkel was clear that it wouldn’t happen on her watch. She was keen not to be seen offering preferential treatment to a particular engagement group. “There was some initial disappointment from the B20,” admits Mildner. “But what she did instead was give each engagement group their own summit, and she has taken part in all of them. Every engagement group was able to participate. It worked out well, as it forced us to agree on our recommendations early on and be able to do a lot more advocacy.”

What does success look like?

That the leaders gathering in Hamburg today have no shortage of issues to address is not in doubt. Only time will tell if the deals they strike will deliver on their objectives, but Mildner strikes a note of warning that measurement is not always straightforward.

“The higher the score, the better – obviously.  We have tried to set some expectations management because this G20 is more about fundamental values than detailed policy programmes. With the process, we will look forward to receiving the results of an evaluation survey sent to our members. And on building trust and cooperation within the community of engagement groups and with other engagement groups – if it is carried on by our Argentinian colleagues, who hold the presidency next year, then we would consider it a huge success.”

But that’s for the future. Of more immediate concern is the upcoming summit and ensuring that the rest of this year’s G20 process advances with the effectiveness for which Germany has become rightly renowned. Few would bet against it.

 

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