Davos Digest 2019: Issue Four

2019 has been tough for the World Economic Forum. It has always been marred with criticism and accusations of hypocrisy, but while the global elite would usually brush these aside, this year’s attendees seemed to lack a spring in their step. The notable absences of major politicians were telling of a world in turmoil but as we look back over this week, that may well have been a blessing in disguise.

Overall, we were granted a much-needed reprieve from Brexit and the US shutdown, leaving the stage wide open to more human issues.

An unusually frank and visibly emotional Prince William spoke out on the stigma we still attach to mental illness by calling out past generations that bottled up traumatic experiences.

Somalian refugee Mohamed Hassan’s inspirational ‘refugee camp to Davos’ story provoked many of us to rethink the way asylum-seekers are perceived.

But none have epitomised the winds of change better than Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old Swedish climate activist took a 32-hour train to the Forum and last night camped out on the freezing slopes. Yesterday, to a stunned silence followed by applause, she calmly and firmly blamed her audience for their impact on climate change.

The importance of granting these issues airtime cannot be underestimated. Thousands of schoolchildren all around the world are following Greta’s lead today by taking to the streets in protest.

This year’s Davos has been a breath of fresh air. Without the hot air and hyperbole of the usual political show ponies, those without a hidden agenda delivered some real truths and brought the Forum closer than ever to its high-minded ambition: driving positive change. In the words of Sir David Attenborough: “This event is one of the most optimistic things I’ve seen in a while”. Let’s try not to forget that next time we knock the champagne-sippers of the Swiss Alps.

Stephanie Bailey, MD of Corporate Communications


Waving goodbye to the world’s richest with a…

  • Staunch message about inequality: This morning, Executive Director of Oxfam International Winnie Byanyima blasted governments for failing to tackle wealth inequality. According to Byanyima, “Extreme inequality is out of control… It’s bad for everyone and yet we just talk about it.”
  • Phil the flake: UK Chancellor Philip Hammond pulled out of another session this morning, this time on ‘the global economy’. WEF really knows how to narrow a topic, doesn’t it … Turns out that Phil ran off to sign a deal with Swiss finance head Ueli Maurer, which means that the UK and Swiss insurance sectors will now be able to trade freely after Brexit. Who said Davos is all talk and no action?
  • Are EU having a laugh? We end the week on a low with David Solomon, Goldman Sachs’ new chief executive, warning of the perils of a “difficult” Apparently, the Wall Street giant has frozen its headcount in the UK while it continues to bolster operations in the EU. If anyone wants to join, our flight to Frankfurt leaves tonight at 7pm.


All’s well that ends well

  • Child’s play: In a ray of positive light that burned through the dense, pessimistic cloud hanging over Davos, the CEOs of IKEA, Lego, Unilever and NatGeo announced they will be part of the Real Play Coalition. The group aims to address the so-called children’s “play gap” to help grant children around the world the playtime they deserve.
  • Three-day weekend, anyone? Less stress, higher job satisfaction and a better work-life balance. What more could you want? It’s a long-held view that technology would help us work less, but the opposite seems to be happening. Economist Rutger Bregman and psychologist Adam Grant today argued for the switch to a four-day working week. Sold! I shouldn’t even be here writing about this.


A fourth social revolution

  • Who said it? George Soros launched a scathing criticism on Chinese president Xi Jinping, calling attention to the mortal danger facing open societies from the instruments of control that machine learning and artificial intelligence can put in the hands of repressive regimes.
  • Why we need CMOs at Davos: Salesforce executive VP and CMO Stephanie Buscemi says that 90% of consumers want the businesses they engage with to have a point of view on issues like social inequality. She said that many companies “wash” their brand with social messages without backing them up. Let’s hope Salesforce can walk the walk and others will follow its lead.
  • Fourth industrial revolution = third world war: Jack Ma warned that technology could lead to a third world war. Echoing Elon Musk’s fears of AI-driven conflict, Ma stressed the importance of education, saying that young people should be able to “do things machines can’t do.”


Healthy futures

  • Social benchmark? World leaders could experience the ‘Friendship Bench’, an idea from Zimbabwe where community grandmothers are trained to offer problem-solving talking therapy to people with mental health problems. Is this a practical solution we can all get behind?
  • Connected care: The costs of poor health could be as high as 15% of GDP in advanced economies by mid-century. Philips CEO Frans van Houten highlighted the role of the cloud in connecting patients and providers, making hospitals more efficient so money can be redirected towards prevention.
  • Catching cancer early: Global spend on cancer treatments rose from $96 billion to $133 billion in the four years to 2017. Julie Louise Gerberding, Executive Vice President and Chief Patient Officer at MSD, commented that curing cancer early on can save significant costs down the line.
  • Genomic gains: Just 50% of surveyed WEF attendees think it’s a good idea for all babies to have their genome sequenced – yet 90% think this is inevitable. UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that Genomics England aims to sequence one million genomes over the next five years. He’s determined that the resulting data will be used to improve people’s lives.

That’s all for another year. Stay classy Davos!