January 30, 2015
Davos: More Than Just A Gab Fest?

So many private jets – roughly 1,700 in fact – arrived in Switzerland last week that the Swiss Armed Forces had to open up a military base to accommodative the extra air traffic. In what the media has termed the “Super Bowl of schmoozing,” the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland wrapped up on Saturday.

Davos is a gathering of the world’s elite political and business leaders aimed at finding ways to tackle pressing global problems. This year the theme was “the new global context,” a broad theme that allowed for sessions ranging from income inequality to artificial intelligence. According to Quartz, 2,872 of the world’s luminaries were in attendance at the invite-only forum.

Every year, however, the media raises the obvious question: Is Davos just an excuse for the richest 1 percent to hang out?

That depends on who you talk to, argues FT’s Gillian Tett. “CEOs are uneasily aware that hostility towards elites is rising,” she writes. While some attendees treat Davos as a glorified ski outing, many view the event as an opportunity to reflect on their own roles in perpetuating problems in the global economy.

After a week of speeches, workshops, networking events and parties, a few major themes emerged from this year’s conference. Here are the four takeaways from Davos every CEO should know.

European banks are getting a major stimulus boost.

Angela Merkel addressed the World Economic Forum on Thursday morning with a promise that Germany wants to remain “a stable anchor for Europe.” At the exact same time as her speech, European Central Bank President Mario Draghi announced a new quantitative easing program that would inject the economy with 60 billion euros ($70 billion) a month. He was notably absent from Davos this year because he’s been trying to save the Eurozone from deflation.

World leaders are ready to talk about climate change.

The world is at a critical crossroads, said world leaders at Davos. If the world fails to act on climate change and sustainable development, then we will soon lose the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint.

A new roadmap to support sustainable development is expected to emerge from several conferences in 2015, including the UN Summit in NY, where the general assembly is aiming to adopt new Sustainable Development Goals.

“Growth must be more inclusive and green,” remarked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “I urge you to choose wisely and invest in the low-carbon pathway.

Business leaders were encouraged to continue pursuing growth and job creation, but with a renewed commitment to sustainability.

Income inequality remains a thorny issue.

Because its attendees are among the world’s wealthiest, Davos is often pegged as the ultimate illustration of the 1 percent’s distance from the rest of the world. In a star-studded debate on jobs and income inequality, 90 percent of Davos attendees said that they contribute more to the world than they take.

“Billions of people in emerging markets are lifted to the middle class,” said WPP CEO Martin Sorrell. “I am not going to apologize for creating a company that employs 179,000 employees.”

The debate was fueled by new information in a 2015 Oxfam report that suggests the richest 1 percent of the world will own more than the other 99 percent by 2016.

Cybersecurity concerns loom large.

Davos published a new report on cybersecurity that has this key conclusion: “There is no silver bullet to address foolproof cyber resilience.” The report suggests that many businesses are delaying adoption of innovative new technologies because they don’t understand how to protect their sensitive information. World leaders need to make sure they’re not contributing to an unstable digital ecosystem in which there aren’t proper controls and safeguards.

Truth be told, there were a lot of global problems at Davos that went unaddressed. “Al Gore on climate change was as radical as it got,” remarked Larry Elliott in a recent Guardian piece. Furthermore, the absence of Thomas Piketty “was like putting on Hamlet without the prince.”

Despite its failings, the 2015 Davos summit proved useful for world leaders who were looking for opportunities to discuss global problems in a substantive forum. Whether or not those conversations translate into real-world change is still up for debate.

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