Davos Digest 2018: WEF Begins

The World Economic Forum in Davos begins again today. That time of the year when the world’s most influential, powerful and wealthy individuals descend on a small ski resort in Switzerland to chat, deliberate about the future of the planet, and do all they can to avoid actually skiing. Speaking of which, the first order of business this year? Clearing the heaviest snowfall in 18 years, which has disrupted train and helicopter access to the venue.

On to business…

Last year at Davos, with Brexit and a Trump presidency fresh in the world’s consciousness, the conversation centered on the impact of a ‘new world order’. Indeed, this year’s theme of “creating a shared future in a fractured world” picks up where we left off, but with a Master of Ceremonies that few would have chosen…

President Trump – a man you could argue is at the centre of exacerbating this fractured sentiment – is scheduled at the Forum on the final day. Say what you will about him, but Trump’s presence at Davos will offset criticisms that the event has become irrelevant. The world will certainly be watching. What he’ll discuss or announce though is anyone’s guess…

Each day we’ll be sending you the latest political, business and tech news, gossip and outcomes from the event. Here’s a quick snapshot:

Trump, with a bit of politics thrown in

  • Modi is in town: Key watch-outs will be Indian Prime Minister Modi’s opening address today, and the largest ever Chinese delegation to attend the event (since last year), marking the end of the Western domination of Davos. Globalisation was a strong rhetoric from last year and looks to be heavily on the agenda again this year.
  • The magnificent seven: This year marks a first in Davos history – while female attendance still lags behind (2015 saw only a 17 per cent female attendance) WEF has rightly changed its tone for 2018, announcing a Davos that is exclusively chaired by seven women.
  • M&M: It seems no coincidence that French President Macron and German Chancellor Merkel will deliver their addresses on Wednesday, avoiding Trump altogether. The backdrop of Brexit and the most recent German election will ensure their statements will be well-scrutinised by the press.
  • Trump town: Speculation is rife about the contents of Donald Trump’s Davos speech on the final day of the Forum. Will he double down on his ‘America First’ agenda? Or will he strike a more conciliatory tone with the global elite? Implications for the corporate world are manifold.

The robots are coming…

Last year, technology was front of mind at Davos. Despite a sense of nervousness and apprehension amongst the delegates at the Forum, there was a huge amount of excitement and discussion about how technology would drive the global economy.

  • Driverless cars, blockchain, artificial intelligence and automation heralded the start of the fourth industrial revolution, and hopefully a new-found level of global prosperity. This year will see the first predictions of where this will take us…
  • Healing the world, one gadget at a time: This year there is more of a social focus on healing divisions, and tech-based healthcare will be a major topic. CEO of Royal Phillips (a client of ours), Frans van Houten, kicked off proceedings this morning with an appeal for a patient-centric systemic change in healthcare systems around the world enabled by technology. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, will add his voice to the debate today.
  • Security and public information: Cyber security and privacy will be a strong underlying topic throughout this year’s Forum, but also whether we can trust the big tech players with our own data. Ginni Rometty of IBM will be speaking on the data responsibility on Thursday.
  • Can we stop fake news? Will humans exist in the future? Is ‘bedroom biotech’ a global risk? All likely questions that Klaus Schwab, the founder of WEF, is likely to put to Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, during their one-on-one Thursday interview. It promises to be one of this year’s tech highlights.

Buy low, sell high

  • PwC’s Annual Global CEO Survey: The opening day of Davos sees the results of PwC’s  Annual Global CEO Survey announced. The survey sheds light on what the often out-of-touch global business leaders feel are the key opportunities and challenges facing business today. Last year’s edition saw most CEOs agree that globalisation had not helped to close the gap between rich and poor. Have they addressed that in the year since?
  • Responsible business is good business: Similarly, society is increasingly demanding that businesses and their leaders serve a social purpose. There will no doubt be grandiose promises from businesses on how they can make a positive contribution to society. Whether those promises turn out to be authentic – or just mere hot air – will remain to be seen.