When Ellen Kullman, chief executive of DuPont, asked a contract worker on the production line making Kevlar, the fibre used in bulletproof vests, what he was doing, she got an unexpected response: “We’re saving lives.”
Global business and political leaders like to talk about the long term, but persistently focus on what’s in front of their faces. That is one conclusion you can draw from the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks 2014 report, for nearly 10 years the doomy trailer to the main feature next week in Davos.
The pressing preoccupations of business, government, academic, non-governmental leaders – the “risks” that combine “high impact and high likelihood” – are: extreme weather events, failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation, water crises, severe income disparity, high unemployment, and fiscal crises in key economies. But if I were a bookmaker, I would have long since closed the betting on whether these events will occur – because almost all of them already have.
Well-spotted: the biggest and most likely "risks" are in the top right (source: WEF)
Everyone you meet at Davos tends to ask you what are the things that have most struck you about the week. If, as David Rothkopf remarks, the World Economic Forum is “a factory where the conventional wisdom is manufactured”, that is how it is done.
So, in that spirit, here is my biggest “takeaway”: it is quite possible to have a useful meeting in 15 minutes. Read more
Will the rise of higher education in the US and elsewhere be curtailed by the expansion of Massive Open Online Courses (Moocs) that allow people to study digitally rather than attend lectures and classes? Some surprising people think so.
One of them is Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He told a panel in Davos organised by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, that he didn’t think institutions such as MIT could keep charging $40,000 a year for tuition in the digital world. Read more
Greetings from Davos, the annual shindig of world leaders and chief executives in a valley by a Swiss mountain. Or perhaps the site of a global conspiracy of the power elite. Or perhaps the place where a Swiss professor imposes his quaint euro-views on “stakeholder capitalism” on US corporations. Or perhaps one giant cocktail party.
My first task at Davos this year was a fun one: to interview Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel prize-winner and author of the best-selling book on the psychology of decision-making, Thinking, Fast and Slow.
One of the thoughts Mr Kahneman mooted in a lively hour of presentation and discussion was that chief executives, who are naturally optimistic people (for they would not be in that position if they weren’t), hold two sets of expectations in their heads. Read more
There is constant status anxiety at the World Economic Forum – am I at the best session, have I been invited to the best party, what colour badge am I wearing?
But what if the best Davos badge is not the white badge that admits you to all official events, but no badge at all? It is certainly cheaper than SFr20,000 for an official place at the forum. Read more
For the world’s financial elite, now might be a good time to be on a Swiss mountainside, protected by a cordon of armed police, and able to take one’s mind off things by skiing and popping into a private bank.
We know where many chief executives are now. In a snowy Alpine resort thinking big thoughts. But where were they over the past few months? Answer: locked in their offices, responding to multiple-choice questions, if the avalanche of Davos-pegged surveys is anything to go by.
I’ve ranted about such surveys before. Business leaders who participate tell me they find them tedious. They inevitably reach roughly the same conclusions (this year – surprise – “It’s gloomy out there”). Yet still they’re rolled out, and still they get written about (yes, by the FT, too).
The World Economic Forum – captive elite audience, massive press corps, low quotient of breaking news – is catnip to the pollsters who carry them out, and the companies that back them. So if you don’t want to risk a broken leg, snow-blindness and schmooze-fatigue by trekking to the Alps, here, as a public service, is my Top 10 of Davos surveys, ranked by number of respondents. I make no apologies for using the headlines from these polls’ press releases. Follow the links and dig into the data if you wish, but always remember: this isn’t science, it’s PR. Read more
Davos women are gathered to listen to the likes of Arianna Huffington and the impressive Indonesian trade minister, Mari Pangestu, and to network amongst other women. Seemingly stuck at just 15 per cent of participants, the ‘tribe’ (as its referred to by Harvard prof Rosabeth Kanter)looks quite different all gathered together vs as a light sprinkling. As I’m sitting down and slightly wondering what I need to be doing here for children, most of the women at the table tell me they happen to be Save the Children supporters – it’s great to be able to say thank you.
The Google party is even cooler this year with wetsuit, snorkel-clad waiters serving sushi, and coloured pure oxygen tanks for those in need of a blast. Media moguls, politicos, all the young global leaders and even some royalty hit the dance floor. Read more
The BBC’s Politics Show presenter Jon Sopel is moderating a discussion on cross-sector partnerships. I’m on the panel with Accenture and IKEA. Amazingly it’s a decent turnout at 7am (after a late night for most compounded with jet lag for many). Are NGOs and businesses converging? What will partnerships look like in another decade? Classic Davos fringe meeting. Encouraging levels of enthusiasm and a few new partnership ideas emerge.
I’m catching quick meetings with CEOs I’d struggle to get time with normally. So I miss what I hear was a great session on global talent mobility – a big issue for Save the Children. Read more
Here are further glimpses of the Davos kaleidoscope.
First, my friend Moises Naim, editor of Foreign Policy, gave me a new acronym on the global recovery. It is LUV. The L is for the L-shaped recovery of the European economies. The U is for the U-shaped recovery of the US economy. The V is for the shape of the recovery of big emerging economies. Read more
Although the conference dribbles on until Sunday morning, by Friday evening the tone has been set. So what is the verdict?
The mood is certainly better than last year, when the world was ending, but it is worse than at the beginning of last week. Alessandro Profumo of Unicredit acutely observed that Davos is likely to accentuate whatever mood you arrived in, rather as alcohol does, I guess. So those who arrived nervous about the economic prospects are leaving even more jittery. If you arrived feeling pessimistic, you will leave somewhere between suicidal and homicidal.
The market background has not helped. Anxiety about Greece has grown over the past three days. In the circumstances, it was strange to see both the Greek prime minister and his finance minister here. Maybe the subtext was to show that there can be no crisis if they are munching muesli in the mountains, but though some may have been reassured, more people asked who was at home minding the taverna. Read more
On Friday I talked at the World Economic Forum about how I see the next 10 years as the Decade of Vaccines – a time when we will make more progress than ever on immunisations that save lives in the developing world.
The Decade of Vaccines will build on the phenomenal progress of the past 10 years. Since its creation in 2000, the GAVI Alliance has helped immunise more than 250m children in poor countries, averting 5m deaths and preventing a great deal of sickness and suffering. (You can read more about GAVI’s work in my 2010 Annual Letter, which was released this week.) Read more
By Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor
I had an ulterior motive last night when I went to a dinner on Shakespeare and the crisis. I thought the session, led by Carol and Ken Adelman, founders of Movers and Shakespeares, would be ripe for ridicule and typical of some of the enjoyable nonsense of Davos. Their website, after all, does talk guff about teaching ”critical business skills through Shakespeare’s greatest works”. Read more
By Chris Giles, the FT’s economics editor
In a recent speech, Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England railed against the inconsistencies of national recovery strategies, saying that, “a present there is no political mechanism for achieving that consistency”. Read more
Will India meet global expectations? This is what was debated in a large televised room packed with serious corporate players yesterday (so this is where they are). Lots of talk about India’s role as regional power and growth rates, but then finally a brave panellist suggests that the number one priority has to be for India to develop its people. The moderator completely ignored this and went back to growth rates.
Frustrating given India really could stop its children going hungry and dying from preventable causes – with enough determination. Bangladesh, a poorer country, has made faster progress on cutting child mortality rates. Read more
Another weird day has passed. But all days at Davos are weird. One never knows what is going on, except for the fact that, wherever one is, one would be far better off somewhere else.
The highlight of yesterday evening was the opening address of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France. The speech is so classically French as to be a caricature of itself: bombastic, high-flown and verbose, it addresses a vast range of contemporary challenges, around the grand theme of moralising and containing capitalism. Yet, I have to admit, there is much in it with which I find myself in agreement. Read more
I never thought I’d read myself saying this, but there are times when a man can tire of debates about macro-prudential flexing of Basel 2 capital requirements. It’s hard to believe, I know – maybe it’s the thin mountain air that does it.
Fortunately, there are other subjects of debate this year. Bill Clinton came to talk about Haiti, and many others have reflected on the difficulty of organising effective responses to a disaster, in a state which was fragile beforehand, and where much of the usual government infrastructure does not function. The normal difficulties of co-ordinating the efforts of different countries and agencies are compounded, leading Clinton to advocate a small group imposed from outside to force a common approach. Read more
First session of the day is on ‘Rethinking humanitarian response’ and was again dominated by Haiti. Is it really all as chaotic as the media depicts? If the response was slow, slow compared to what exactly? What are the respective roles of the UN, government, NGOS, business and military?
I think we have the answers to these questions but there is not enough time and ongoing interest to build a shared understanding across the different sectors. Still, the room is not hostile and the concluding straw poll shows more people are optimistic than pessimistic about the scale-up in Haiti. Read more