Dr Iqbal Surve: WEF 2020 bids to create seat at the table


CAPE TOWN – Next week, the world will focus on the plush ski resort that is Davos, Switzerland, as heads of government, business magnates and civil society leaders descend upon it for the 50th staging of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Interesting word, “staging”, for WEF has indeed been a stage for some of the most important decisions and discussions facing our planet’s survival. This year will be no different I am sure, although this year there is an imperative, like never before, to move beyond the conversation to action before it is too late for everyone.

Under the banner of Stakeholder Capitalism: A Manifesto for a Cohesive and Sustainable World, WEF has identified three main areas deserving of the world intelligentsia’s attention. These are overcoming income inequality, societal division and climate crisis.

It is fair to say that Davos has gone through many iterations in its five decades; perceived initially as an elite travel destination for a group get-together, to now a respected think tank.

Entering my second decade of Davos participation, I find that Davos can indeed be an expensive talk show, or it can be a place to stimulate and propel the influential into critical action. I trust this year it will be the latter.

The world has arrived at a critical junction in its future history. It is fractured and divided with ever widening gaps between peoples and countries in terms of wealth, technology, access to resources etc.

The real prospect of war is looming for a number of territories, the re-emergence of fascism and nationalism, all spurred on by “popularism” and populism.

People the world over are saying loud and clear, “enough” of the same old world order. It’s time for something new. What that looks like could be shaped at Davos this year.

The ultimate irony in an era of globalisation though, is that we are seeing increasing isolation and countries opting to go it alone. So, what role must Davos then play in bringing us all to the same table and producing concrete deliverables and action plans to tackle the issues that divide us?

Climate change – Davos is a good opportunity for governments and the private sector to really commit to clean energy, efficiency and decrease the carbon footprint of the world. Governments and companies at Davos can pledge to implement concrete plans to reduce carbon emissions, especially in industrialised economies and emerging industrialised economies.

It is heartening to see that China has now embraced green energy and has become a world leader in the implementation of green energy.

Preventing war and working towards peace – Davos provides a neutral space for countries that are seemingly in a position of undeclared war, to deal with its risks, and its impact on innocent people who always suffer as a result.

The Davos community is an excellent opportunity for governments, businesses and other stakeholders to find practical solutions to de-escalate tensions and work towards long lasting peaceful solutions.

To my mind then, the two biggest action items must therefore be: practical initiatives for green energy to address climate change, and the promotion of peaceful coexistence.

In narrowing the inequality gap – think the front cover of Time magazine in May 2019 depicting South Africa’s unequal society – Davos needs to address the democratisation of technology to make it more affordable, and accessible to the world, especially developing or emerging countries.

Technology and the models of technology adoption have the potential to widen the gap between the rich and the powerful on the one side, and the poor and the powerless on the other side. Innovation that enables technology to be a force for good must become a key component of the Davos outcomes for 2020.

Without addressing youth unemployment, which remains depressingly high throughout the world, the inequality gap will just widen.

“Glocal” youth innovation employment programmes need to be actively implemented to create jobs for the youth in the world – we need to learn from one another and share best practice, localised for individual territorial circumstances.

Inclusive societies – businesses and governments have an opportunity to work towards a more inclusive society by investing within countries and between countries, to narrow the economic disparities that currently exist.

The current status of the world is such that no one country or sector, be it business or government, can solve these issues of inequality and poverty and unemployment alone. It requires a team effort and Davos is the ideal place for those countries that have successfully reduced poverty and moved towards prosperity for all to be able to share these experiences with other key influences in the world as a lesson in improving the world.

Much has been written and spoken about at Davos about education, entrepreneurship and business models. However, education has to be made more accessible and affordable and more impactful for countries that have a large scale capacity problem. The science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects require increased investment and collaboration by countries.

It goes without saying, but it’s worth repeating anyway, that there is much disparity in the world today. However, the very tools that are currently dividing us, are the self-same tools that can unite us.

Collectively, we have the resources, the know-how, and the technologies to build a stakeholder model, which is more inclusive, just and more aligned to the needs of all of the world’s population, and most importantly, the planet.

Until now, we have lacked the impetus to climb over the wall and make it to the other side.

I believe that the dawning of this new decade is that radical boost we all need to stay in the race, because right now, it is about participating and not winning.

The world is at a tipping point, dystopia reigns supreme, and yet, the overriding solution, which is stakeholder capitalism, is as relevant today as it was two decades ago when I wrote my thesis for my MBA on transformative business leadership and stakeholder capitalism.

Davos has always provided the intellectual and networking gravitas to design the solutions for a better future. What is now expected from Davos 2020 is the implementation of that new model of stakeholder capitalism to positively affect a world, one which is less divided, less fragile, less at risk and one where everyone can have a seat at the table.

*Dr Iqbal Survé is chairperson of Independent Media

This article first appeared in the Business Report Online