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Ambassador from the UK, Alan Mak, reflects on his fourth trip to Davos.
The theme for this year's World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos was "Reshaping the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business". A bit of a tongue twister, but the aim was certainly laudable: to encourage the 2,500 CEOs, celebrities, journalists and political leaders gathered in the Alps to move beyond the financial crisis, focus on the nascent economic recovery, and ensure the upturn benefits more than just the 1%. “It is a time to be optimistic: the world economy is turning a corner, but we must ensure politics and business serve society better this time” seemed to be the prevailing mood this year. One Young World’s co-Founders, Ambassadors, sponsors and Counsellors were very much at the forefront of all that was going in Davos this year.
Alan Mak (left) with One Young World Co-Founder David Jones.
The feeling of optimism was certainly pervasive. The annual PwC CEO survey, launched at Davos, showed that the proportion of CEOs who believe the global economy will improve hit 44% while only 7% think things will get worse. My first event at this year's Davos reinforced this: a 7am breakfast panel event to launch the always-excellent Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey measuring public trust in business, government and the media around the world.
The panel was led Unilever CEO (and One Young World Counsellor) Paul Polman. He said the CEO's new role in the post-crisis business environment was to act as the "Chief Engagement Officer", spreading the word that business' role was to "maximise values not just value". He quoted leadership guru Stephen Covey who said "you can’t talk yourself out of something you’ve behaved yourself into" and emphasised the need for business to match fine words about a responsible recovery with real actions, such as reducing their environmental impact, ensuring their staff did not burn out, and helping solve societal challenges like youth unemployment. Key to the responsible recovery would be business building trust with customers and society. Polman cited Indian tycoon Ratan Tata who said his company "made millions of cars each year, but built just 1 thing: trust". The invited audience, including me, certainly left inspired and energised for the coming week.
Elsewhere, Barclays CEO (and One Young World Counsellor) Antony Jenkins was the star draw at a discussion entitled “Are Markets Safer Now?”. Jenkins said the financial system’s business is to manage risk, and it is better for that risk to be concentrated in the hands of closely regulated professionals, rather than remaining on corporate balance sheets or migrating to the unregulated, shadow banking system. Nobel Laureate (and One Young World Counsellor) Professor Muhammad Yunus headlined a panel on “Ethical Capitalism”. It was great to see Sir Richard Branson again, after sharing the stage with him in Johannesburg during the B-Team session at the 2013 Summit. Sir Richard was in Davos to speak alongside Tony Blair and Bill Gates on philanthropy.
Later in the week, Akira Amari, Japan's "Minister for Economic Revitalization" led a standing-room only session on "Re-Shaping Globalisation" which also featured the CEOs of Møller-Maersk (the world's biggest shipping company), Cargill (the world's biggest agribusiness) and Clifford Chance. The consensus was that the "new era of globalisation has to work for everyone" and that wealth must be shared more equally within countries as well as between them to avoid the types of civil unrest we saw in southern Europe and Latin America last year. This spirit was shared at a working dinner that night convened by the WEF's expert panel (aka “Global Agenda Council”) on civil society. Being seated between Diarmuid Martin, the Archbishop of Dublin and Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the TUC (UK Trades Union Congress) was a novel and illuminating experience, and the conversation was no less punchy, focussing on how civil society could act as a watchdog on business in the new economy to ensure wealth and success were open to all, especially to young people and those in developing economies. Everyone agreed business was a force for good – creating wealth, new jobs and innovation – but that we should all work hard to ensure more people felt the benefits. At this year’s One Young World Summit, in Dublin, we hope to inspire a new generation of young leaders to take this message forward.
Bobby Kennedy summed up the promise of Davos during in his 1968 US Presidential campaign when he said “Some men see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were, and ask why not?” At this year’s Davos it was clear that sustainable business, not just successful business, was high on the global agenda and that forums like One Young World have a vital role to play in ensuring the Davos delegates of tomorrow – the future CEOs, tycoons, political and civil society leaders, celebrities and journalists – champion an agenda that puts hope, optimism and a strong society at the heart of their leadership as the responsible recovery begins.