What a difference a year makes. 2017 was not short of any doom and gloom, and with that political and economic pessimism came doubts about how the so-called ‘global elite’ conduct themselves – and indeed who they ultimately serve. Davos, at a glance, is a gathering of smug fat cats discussing how best they can exploit those worse off, under the guise of arbitrary and obscure dogmas and catchphrases such as “global development”, “multilateral cooperation” and “mutual interest”. As tempting as this view may be, and it certainly is in a year where President Donald J Trump was among the premier invitees, Davos this year proved itself highly productive and valuable in a number of ways.
The primary benefit of these kind of conferences are the economic expertise they can bring to global discourse. This year, among much optimism about encouraging (and unexpected) economic growth that the likes of the US and EU have managed, there were clear key underlying risks in the global economy that were highlighted. Firstly, that debt, particularly public debt, remains to be a genuine concern that does not seem to be getting much better. In the UK, Hammond and May are battling to qualm the increasingly disgruntled population over austerity while projecting to the world that the UK is responsible and competent with its budget. Clearly these two goals are irreconcilable, and one must ask whether, given the choice, May and Hammond would choose short term political gain or long term economic responsibility – my money is on the former.
Davos this year proved itself highly productive and valuable in a number of ways
Cyber security is the second cause of significant unease that many in the World Economic Forum mentioned. One tech leader suggested that the world “needs a digital Geneva Convention”, and clearly it is an area of great unpredictability and vulnerability. With the likes of the NHS and the US Senate being interfered with by North Korea and teenage hackers respectively, the threat is broad and varied.
The eye-catching initiative that was bandied around Davos this year was the new-found ethos and understanding that large firms must take a more prominent role in social development in the modern era. As the Blackberry CEO Larry Fink described it, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose.” Two subsequent messages came out of this debate: firstly, reskilling the population and education system to prepare for a digital age dominated by AI, and secondly, allocating the profits of this new industrial revolution more widely when it does come.
Never before has business been more accountable to the people
This final point is by far my favourite product of the Davos 2018 World Economic Forum, and that’s because it is all about a fundamental change of culture in the corporate world. It is about asking questions about the status quo: should business be more than an institution for profit? – are we prepared for a challenging future ahead? – can business contribute to people’s lives in a more meaningful and constructive way? Never before has business been more accountable to the people, and the product of that we are only just beginning to experience – and it is why I am not entirely cynical about business and the world of the elite (yet).