Davos Digest 2020: Issue Four

Finally, it’s over! Is it us or is it just exhausting watching the endless proclamations from companies that really should have done a lot more, a lot sooner?


To be fair, this year has been a welcome relief from the empty promises of yesteryear. Finally, there is something to get our teeth into. Yes, we had slightly gimmicky gestures as a group of young activists were invited to the hallowed slopes but we also had some pretty impressive commitments from household names.

So, hats off to Goldman Sachs for making a bold statement on all male boards. Well done to Microsoft for committing to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. And nicely said BlackRock as the financial world finally wakes up to the economic impact of climate change.

To be honest though, they really can’t afford not to follow this through with action: if they don’t sort this mess out soon there won’t be any snow to ski down, and we couldn’t have that now, could we?

Stephanie Bailey, Senior Partner


Workers of the world unite – behind nice stock options

Power to the employees: PayPal CEO Daniel Schulman opens up on aligning stakeholder interests through the company’s employee-participant shareholder model. Now, he says, when the company invests in one area, more product gets sold, the share price goes up, and both corporate stakeholders and employees benefit all at once. Could we be in for a return to mass worker participation in business decision-making?

Capitalism: not perfect: JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon defended his claims, made in Time magazine, that socialism leads to an eroding society. “I don’t think people understand what socialism is,” he says. “Socialism is where the government controls companies… [it is a] road to nowhere”. Many will agree with him, but America’s favourite socialists have hit back by pointing out Dimon didn’t have an issue with government intervention back in 2008 during the financial crisis.

Bring your Bhutan to work day: Leaders looking to build sustainable companies could learn a thing or two from Bhutan by prioritising human happiness over profit. Andre Hoffman, billionaire top dog at Roche, points out that money is not a reflection of a healthy society asking, ‘why do we continue to determine business opportunities by how much profit we can make?’. He says, “It’s okay to be nice. You don’t have to be a bastard to be successful.”

‘Male, pale and stale’? No sale! In a landmark move, Goldman Sachs chief David Solomon announced the business will no longer help companies with all white and all male boards list on stock exchanges. This is a massive statement for diversity in the boardroom, but it will only be as impactful as the wider industry lets it. Hopefully, the rest of the corporate finance industry sees this as a visionary move to follow, not one less heavyweight competitor to deal with.

Wrapping-up corporate news at Davos: Davos is often seen as a high-octane talking shop, but this year corporate conversations have stood out as being unusually radical. Conversations around business transformation have focused around the environment, diversity, and democratic decision-making. Debate has been more substantial than it has been in years. Now we need to wait and see how many of these pledges are backed up by real action.


From grand to green

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has proclaimed that the world has moved on from the era of ‘grand coalitions’ between conservative and centre-left mainstream parties. Kurz today predicted that in their place will come ‘constellations’ (nope, we don’t know what this means either), like the one he recently entered into with Austria’s Green Party sweeping the continent.


Lagarde’s charades leave a bad Brexit ajar

To use a footballing adage, 2020 is set to be a ‘game of two halves’ according to new ECB chief Christine Lagarde. Lagarde is settling into her new role with glee, predicting that our current respite from Brexit’s headline hogging will be short-lived and that, as the year draws to an end, the possibility of yet another cliff-edge is alive and well. Anyone else getting a sense of déjà vu?

Wrapping up politics: WEF felt different this year: with impressive policy announcements, mature conversations on the climate emergency and the laying foundations for significant action, 2020 felt like the year Davos would finally become a place for serious politics to happen. That’s not to say it was all smooth sailing: we saw tech tax tantrums, a Britain trying to appeal to Europe, the Commonwealth, the US and the rest of the world all at the same time, and President Trump all but deny the severity of the climate emergency. Even if Davos 2020 has raised more questions than answers, it feels like it’s been a productive week.


How to make the trains run on time? Facial recognition apparently: Ou est le train?

In a France 24 news report today Kay Firth-Butterfield, WEF’s Head of AI, outlined a joint venture between WEF, the French rail company SNCF and Paris Airport to develop facial recognition technology to track passenger flows, helping people travel faster and safer. They’ll have an uphill struggle, with widespread misgivings about facial recognition among media and the general public.

It’s not easy being green: Tech plays its part in reducing global plastics, with SAP joining WEF’s Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) community, alongside the likes of Coca-Cola, Morgan Stanley and the UN. Kristin Hughes, director of GPAP, said “As a pioneer in the technology and innovation space, it is fantastic to see SAP channel its expertise and resources into solutions that will strengthen the global response to plastics pollution.”

Wrapping up tech: The tech industry has been under immense pressure over data privacy, fake news and tax avoidance – if you need to back that up, may we refer you to our 2019 ‘Techlash’ report. This years’ Davos will do nothing to lessen those concerns. Heavy hitters like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella and Salesforce’s Marc Benioff prioritised big environmental initiatives over self-regulation. They made necessary and impressive environmental commitments which were on brand with the theme of WEF 2020. But one wonders if a bit more self-reflection wouldn’t do more for their reputations and ultimately, by building consumer trust in technology, help the environment.


Wise heads on young shoulders

Return to sender: Melati Wijsen started Bye Bye Plastic Bags at age 12. Now, with 50 teams across the world, it aims to eliminate plastic waste. At the Disposable Society discussion, she highlighted western countries’ bad habit of sending their waste thousands of miles to emerging economies to be recycled. In one month they sent 9 containers of imported plastic waste back to Europe and USA with a simple message; ‘we’ve got enough. You need to deal with it yourselves.’

Just chill out and watch a movie? A star-studded youth line up discussed how we can plant our way to a better world. Fionn Ferreira (18), Ayakha Melithafa (17) and Naomi Wadler (13) offered well-informed ideas ranging from boosting engagement in STEM subjects, to holding businesses to account over their sustainability performance. Shrewd suggestions from some smart teens who are clearly too cool to be in school.

Wrapping up Youth & Culture at Davos: This year Davos offered opportunities to young people like never before. Greta Thunberg battled with Trump and his advisors, Naomi Wadler became the youngest speaker at Davos ever (she’s 13!), and youth panellists spoke with logic, empathy, and intelligence. It’s about time we took them seriously, and the ideas they are promoting are gaining traction at a rapid pace.


Cancer and Coronavirus dominate health industry discussion

A full house for cancer deep-dive: Despite it being the last day, the room was full for the session on strategies and breakthroughs for cancer care. Julie Louise Gerberding, once listed among the 100 Most Influential People in the World by TIME Magazine, plus senior leaders from VPS Healthcare and Moderna discussed how advances in immunology across both cancer treatment and infectious diseases is helping to unlock the body’s ability to attack cancerous cells without chemotherapy.

Social status can mean living or dying: As part of the same session, Shamsheer Vayalil of VPS Healthcare, shared his views on the social aspect of cancer care, calling for proactive partnerships with Big Pharma globally in order diagnose and treat cancer earlier. Moderna’s Stéphane Bancel commented on how social status impacts your chance of living with or dying of cancer. This week Bancel also gave an interview announcing how Moderna was using their approach to a cancer immunisation for a potential Cornovirus virus vaccine.

Coronavirus updates: Throughout the summit, Davos has also been reporting on the current situation in Wuhan with regular updates on the current Coronavirus outbreak.

Wrapping up healthcare: With a look to how the future with shape healthcare, naturally technologies such as AI and ‘robot doctors’ dominated much of the conversation. However, accessibility and financial inclusion were spoken about most passionately this year. Ensuring effective healthcare benefits all patients not just the few, and no matter how great the technological investment, was a key soundbite in many talks. Treating disease as a broader ecosystem was also discussed for ensuring the future of global healthcare will continue to range from prevention right through to patient mental wellbeing.


That’s it! Thanks for reading Davos Digest and we’ll see you next year.