Lord Paul Boateng, former chief secretary to the treasury and the former UK high commissioner to South Africa, answers questions about his first trip to Davos.
1. Is this your first trip to Davos?
I have to confess that it is. I’ve reached a fairly advanced age without ever having felt Davos was for me. I have been an active participant, however, both as a cabinet minister and a diplomat at the spin offs in Mumbai and Cape Town where the WEF reaches out to the rest of the world.
2. What’s the best thing about going to Davos?
If you’ve got an idea or a product to sell then this is a quite unique market place. There are lots of serious people on the lookout for the next big idea or opportunity. A voracious media circus with the promise of global coverage also helps.
3. What’s the worst thing?
The cold and the crowds are bad but the lack of diversity is my main concern. Davos demonstrates there are fewer women and fewer blacks at the top of our major companies than there ought to be. It also feels a bit like freshers’ week at university – you’re always worried that wherever you are the best action is happening somewhere else without you.
4. What is your can’t-miss session or talk this year and why?
I will be at the event that has brought me to Davos for the first time – the Gavi CEO Breakfast, hosted by Bill Gates, Seth Berkley Gavi’s’s CEO and Britain’s very own DfID. It is an opportunity for me and my fellow Gavi envoys to share in an informed and exciting discussion about the challenges in global health with movers and shakers in different fields. It will also be a chance to say thank you, on behalf of millions of families we have met in Africa and all over the world, to the participants who have already contributed to Gavi’s unique public-private partnership between the private sector, civil society and government, which is ensuring lifesaving vaccines reach millions of the world’s poorest children. It will also be an opportunity for some of our corporate partners to renew their support to Gavi.
5. What are you hoping to achieve during your trip this year?
EM Forster’s phrase “only connect” comes to mind. You hope at an event such as this to make the connections between people, ideas and institutions of business and policy that will enable good things to happen. I think that Gavi and its work offer not just hope of saving the lives of the world’s most vulnerable people but a special model of development of broader application which involves markets and the private sector. The Gavi Matching Fund, for example, is an opportunity for the business world to make commitments – either in cash of through their expertise and experience – that will enable Gavi to purchase vaccines or tackle immunisation issues, such as how people in the most remote areas can be reached. In addition, every pound committed is matched by either the UK government or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
I hope that on top of the renewed commitments we are looking for from existing partners, other CEOs will leave the breakfast wanting either to come on board or thinking about how they and their businesses might make a difference to some of the world’s most needy. Davos for all its contradictions and ambiguities is after all full of people who do want to make a difference.