On the third week of January for the past 47 years a group of world leaders make their way up winding roads to Davos, a small ski town in Switzerland, to participate in the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting. I was honored to be invited to join the group this year and wanted to pass along my reflections from the past five days. I hope you will all add your thoughts and comments to my notes below - both what resonates and what does not - in order to create a dialog on the trends we see shaping our future.
The title of the 2018 forum was "Creating a Shared Future in A Fractured World". After hearing about the sobering tone of last year’s forum I expected the conversations to focus on the significant challenges we are facing globally, so the biggest surprise was the very positive tone of the week that focused on our "shared future". I would summarize the general feeling from participants this year as one of collaboration, partnership and compassion. It is hard to explain the open and relaxed tone of the conference. Countless times I found myself in line for coffee or security checkpoints to realize that I was next to Jack Ma or Al Gore or Crown Princess Mette-Marti or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, all otherwise accustomed to VIP treatment, but now waiting patiently and chatting to the stranger next to them. When the onslaught of snow proved too much for the small town’s shovels and plows, traffic ground to a standstill, yet rather than make a fuss of privilege, people abandoned their private cars and simply walked. Even those from temperate climates woefully unprepared as they slipped in leather soled shoes. It made the world feel very human.
There were hundreds of sessions over the week, so I tried to attend a range in hopes of getting a good perspective on the topics and am also including some reflections from the sessions my husband Neville attended.
Here are some of the highlights that have stuck with me:
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (a former school teacher) and girl’s rights activist Malala talking about education’s multiplier role in advancing opportunity, economic growth, and tolerance to improve the world. Education is like technology and needs to be the foundation of everything we do. Prime Minister Trudeau's closing comment was; "Men need to have the courage to be feminists and the integrity to be allies."
Kofi Annan (Former Secretary General of the UN) spoke unexpectedly at a gathering PWC hosted, capturing the room for over an hour with his quiet, compassionate voice that gave everyone hope in our future. His closing quote was; "It all depends on what the women do." He elaborated by saying 50% of the world has not had a full voice yet so as their voices are rising it will have a meaningful influence.
Sitting in a private small gathering with the prime minister of Pakistan and having him share his experience of living in solitary confinement for 18 months.
French President Emmanuel Macron clearly laying out his plan for France which is focused on creating a new global compact not between governments but between people.
Some major themes that came together for me were:
The consistent message was that leaders and individuals need to not be afraid to speak from a personal place, especially in a time when integrity, human rights and equity are at the center of so many of our world’s challenges.
Technology is no longer a supporting element of our businesses, it is the future of our businesses. It feels like we are at a tipping point where companies that embrace technology will excel and those that operate the way they have for the past 20 years will quickly fall behind.
The trust we have in technology is significant. We trust cars to drive us, Blockchain to hold wealth and Facebook with all of our personal information. We used to trust governments, banks and personal diaries but now we trust technology.
Inclusivity & Equity are not only good but essential for businesses. We have to create inclusive work environments to attract the top talent, which in turns drives the best businesses. Chairman of Bain Consulting suggested businesses are now at the point where inclusivity isn’t about accessing larger pools of human capital, but rather how businesses operate to access greater markets with better products.
A CEO's role is to be a truth holder. They need to know their business and speak up when something is not being done right. CEOs are responsible for the trust their customers have in their company.
The Chinese have leapfrogged the US on cashless payments. Cashless payments are standard. When 100 Chinese university students were surveyed, none held cash in their pockets compared to in the US where all 100 hold cash in their pockets.
The Next Generation will drive significant changes in our cultures and how we work together and live together globally - 70% of the population in Saudi Arabia is under 18.
I hope these thoughts from Davos are additive and would love your responses, thoughts and reactions on what resonates.