The last few days at the World Economic Forum (WEF), Davos, have been a blur. It is not just several interesting sessions across politics, business, science, society and the environment, or the speed-dates with many familiar and new faces across lounges, hallways and even on the streets. Rather, it is the sensory overload of seemingly diverse ideas, building up to a crescendo of a common underlying theme: “We can all work together to build a better future."
I was reminded of US diplomat George Keenan’s response to the Senate about the mindset with which the then cold war problem was being approached. “I have a fear, that our thinking about this whole problem is still affected by some sort of illusions about invincibility on our part," he had said. Fittingly, on the digital sidelines of a Twitter stage, American author Anand Giridhardas has been playing Banquo’s ghost all week, and has elicited a few testy reactions. Meanwhile, ideas about circular economy, reducing packaging intensity and using virtual reality (VR) for an immersive “life as a tree" experience, were all over the main venue.
This year’s theme was Globalization 4.0, which includes a strong cultural dimension. Obviously, this goes to the heart of what ‘globalization’ truly means. The days when globalization was about “exporting the West to the rest" are well and truly behind us—given what is now apparent in the US and Europe, and also the direction that India, China and countries in Africa are taking. Whether the interplay among regions creates a new, yet positive normal or it ends in tears, made for some lively dialogue at a small group discussion of thought leaders. Even in a session on The New Space Age, a discussion on regulating the burgeoning activities by new actors, sovereign and private, grappled with the question of how to ensure new regulations do not create a difficult playing field for new entrants or implicitly favour those who were in space first.
India again had an unmissable presence. A giant billboard featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi near the Congress Centre, multiple pavilions (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Invest India, Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, Maharashtra and a bunch of IT majors), plus, a large contingent from industry and civil society. Hearteningly, there was also a good representation of young people from different civil society organizations, as part of the WEF Future Shapers. There were many discussions on market opportunities–one of which, the Future of Consumption in Fast Growth Markets, focused on India this year. The focus of this WEF report, in partnership with Bain and Co, was on China last year. WEF’s Future of Consumption System Initiative envisions a global society where benefits of technological advancement are inclusive and firmly embedded in people’s lives, making daily consumption experiences simpler. The accompanying report, launched by WEF in the run up to WEF 2019, showed that India will grow into a $6 trillion consumption spend by 2030, on the back of a still very young and, by then, a highly connected population. As Amitabh Kant, CEO, Niti Aayog, pointed out during a lunch discussion on this topic, this opportunity will be doubly interesting for MNCs because innovating for India will help companies in accessing opportunities elsewhere also. Within India, a challenging and exciting implication for companies is the opportunity to shape consumption patterns–categories consumed, brands purchased, or ways of accessing products and information. Companies, the government and civil society have the opportunity of a lifetime to advance responsible consumption and shape positive outcomes for India over the next decade.
About 3,000 participants from public and private sectors, and from civil and cultural societies of 115 countries are gathered in this small Swiss town. Even with the conversations and sessions this week, I am not sure we understand Globalization 4.0 well enough to make sure that the opportunities for value-creation are well tapped, and challenges of ensuring inclusivity addressed. But the ardent voyage continues and, the course, as they say, is set on hope.
Nikhil Prasad Ojha is a partner in Bain & Co.’s Mumbai office. He leads Bain’s Strategy practice in India. He is also a member of Bain’s Consumer Products practice.