Home / Elections 2019 / Opinion /  Opinion | Davos@50: Moment of reckoning and a time to rethink

For the last 50 years, the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting at Davos has been a creative force of collaboration, deliberation and action among the global community. The same is true this year, too, in its 50th year. What started as a small group of like-minded people interested in forwarding the best interests of the world, has today grown to be an unparalleled event and perhaps a movement.

To various cohorts of people, depending on who they are, The forum has been empowering, a platform to find solutions, aspirational and a great networking destination.

For India Inc., it was an enigma in its early years with a select club of chief executive officers or CEOs attending it, but more recently, it has been a stage for an inclusive audience. More than a hundred business leaders from India are expected to be at the celebrated ski resort this time.

In all, about 3,000 businesses, national and social leaders are in Davos to debate and discuss seven themes, with more than 600 public speakers addressing the group. The themes include: How to save the planet; society and future of work; tech for good; fairer economies; better business; healthy futures; and, beyond geopolitics.

WEF founder Klaus Schwab on Tuesday said, “People were revolting against the economic ‘elites’ who they believe have betrayed them, and our efforts to keep global warming limited to 1.5°C are falling dangerously short". Wealth inequalities and climate change are controversial themes and are right up there on the Davos agenda.

And, 2020 will not disappoint with its share of stars: US President Donald Trump; Finland’s Sanna Marin, the world’s youngest serving Prime Minister at 34; European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde; climate activist Greta Thunberg; Huawei Technologies founder Ren Zhengfei; International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva; billionaire investor George Soros and India’s very own Deepika Padukone.

The forum’s first meeting in 1971 was established to further the idea that businesses should serve all stakeholders —customers, employees, communities, as well as shareholders. That was novel at that point in time. Today, while shareholder capitalism and activism has not lost its relevance fully, many other forces are also driving firms.

WEF says that the 2020 Annual Meeting stands out in one way: It will be among the most sustainable international summits ever held. Awarded the IS0 20121 standard for sustainable events in 2018, it is fully carbon-neutral.

WEF announced that it has put initiatives in place to achieve this goal through locally sourced food supplies, renewable electricity, reducing the usage of non-recyclable material and alternative sources of protein to reduce meat consumption—something that I am looking forward to.

WEF leaders believe that four global issues clearly stand out as urgent and important, and feature prominently on the agenda of the Annual Meeting 2020 in Davos. This includes ways to address the urgent climate and environmental challenges that are harming our ecology and economy, and transforming industries to achieve more sustainable and inclusive business models as new political, economic and societal priorities change trade and consumption patterns. Besides, it also looks to examine mechanisms to govern technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution so that they benefit businesses and society, while minimizing the risks.

And, finally, it will also be about how to adapt to the demographic, social and technological trends reshaping education, employment and entrepreneurship.

In recent years, in response to the above, companies and industry leaders have been transforming their business models. This process is likely to get accentuated after Davos 2020. That is why the main theme this time, ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World’, is absolutely relevant.

Purely from the Indian perspective, where concerns of a slowdown have dominated boardroom conversations, I will be looking for inspiration from industry and commerce minister Piyush Goyal, who is addressing a session on the strategic priorities for India to stay on track to becoming a $5-trillion economy by 2025.

Gopal Sarma is a partner at Bain and Co. and leads the Asia-Pacific realty , infrastructure, construction and building products practice.

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