Davos 2019: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Truth

You know it’s going to be a rough Davos summit when the theme is “Globalisation 4.0 - shaping a global architecture in the age of the 4th Industrial Revolution.”

After all, the World Economic Forum is arguably the biggest champion of globalisation on earth. Positioning Globalisation 4.0 as your central theme implies that whatever we’re doing to drive global cooperation is not working the way it should.

The absence of key world leaders - Donald Trump, Theresa May and Emmanuel Macron - underlined this nicely. Whether it’s Trump seeking to build literal and figurative walls, May stubbornly trying to push through Brexit, or Macron facing backlash from protestors over a carbon tax, the world is facing a backlash to the ideals of the WEF that's never been seen before.

In light of this, just how relevant was this year’s Davos in addressing the concerns of its biggest detractors? What were the key takeaways from a forum in flux?

Tough times

It’s become a Davos staple to see people protesting outside for more decisive action on environmental issues and calling out the event’s ecological footprint. The annual World Risks Report gave them more to be vocal about, with climate change highlighted as one of the major risks to global stability and wellbeing.

Unsurprisingly, this was one of the biggest focus areas of the forum. Legendary names in conservation like David Attenborough and Jane Goodall captured the headlines, while the WEF’s Global Shapers community launched a new campaign known as #VoiceForThePlanet. Climate change, renewables and sustainability were consistently the trending topics on social media.

Climate change has always been high on the WEF agenda, but there was a greater spotlight on the threat it poses and the unprecedented actions the world needs to take to mitigate it. This year, there was no ignoring the immediate urgency of the issue.

Then there were shadows of the other issues topping the risk report - geopolitical tensions and an erosion of institutional trust. The question underpinning many of the discussions was how to take collective action against global threats in a world gripped by protectionism, isolationism and populism.

Adding to the difficulty of navigating geopolitical tectonic shifts is a sluggish global economy. IMF Chair Christine Lagarde cut the 2019 global growth forecast to 3.5% due to the high level of economic risk.

Honesty is the best policy-making

If you went by the headlines, you might have come away with the impression that Davos was all doom and gloom, characterised by impending disasters and lack of consensus. Leave it to Jack Ma to flip the script in his talk.

“If you create value, there is opportunity,” he said. “Today, the whole world worries. That means there is great opportunity.” Far from being a doomsday sermon, Davos was full of these kinds of opportunities – to honestly and meaningfully discuss these challenges and take action.

Take the issue of data privacy and digital identities. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella spoke on data privacy and what needs to be done to put consumers in control of their own data as the default, while Members of the Forum’s Platform for Good Digital Identity announced digital payment pilots to improve transparency, accelerate inclusion and reward positive behavior. Japan’s Shinzo Abe discussed plans to use his country’s G20 Chairmanship to launch an agenda for global data governance.

There was a willingness to broach thorny issues, especially around loss of trust and an acknowledgement when policies and strategies had failed people.

The African advantage

So what does Globalisation 4.0 ultimately look like? WEF founder Klaus Schwab summed up it best: human-centred, inclusive and sustainable. One of the most striking things about Davos was how Africa stands to lead this revolution in global thinking, with a solutions-focused, no-nonsense approach to change.

In trying to position South Africa as a country worth investing in, Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted why our own struggles have given us a blueprint for resilience and recovery in a time of crisis. He didn’t sugar-coat the problems we’ve faced as a country over the last decade, but emphasised the changes that have sprung from them – renewed policies centred on inclusiveness, trust-building, multilateralism and collaboration.

As many developed nations struggle with major instability for the first time in decades, countries like South Africa and Rwanda have been through the worst of it and emerged smarter, kinder and more purposeful. As the EU’s future comes into question, Africa is embodying the spirit of global collaboration and integration, entering into continental free trade agreements, dropping VISA requirements, and working together for inclusive growth.

Heat-powered change

Davos 2019 certainly didn’t pull punches when it came to the challenges we are facing as a global society, but the overall message was clear - preparing for the fourth industrial revolution means a global shift in thinking, not just on an organisational or national level.

The challenges the world faces aren’t insurmountable – repositioning our skills, actions and policies around the needs of the fourth industrial revolution will naturally lead to greater global equality, collaboration, trust and meaningful action.

If the world truly is on fire, then we all find ourselves on a burning platform for change. It’s more important than ever to share our knowledge, learn from our failures and seek out the successes of others.

Do you agree that globalisation is in need of a major rethinking? What stood out to you the most about Davos?

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