Davos Digest 2020: Issue One

Welcome to day one of FleishmanHillard’s Davos Digest 2020.

The World Economic Forum 2020 is upon us, and once again the quiet Swiss ski resort of Davos is engulfed in a perfect storm of political intrigue, corporate PR announcements, and incongruous A-list celebrities – same story, different year, right?

Wrong: tensions in the Middle East are at an all-time high, wildfires continue to overwhelm large parts of Australia, China is dealing with a slowing economy and yesterday, as Donald Trump delivered his much-anticipated address, the US Senate began their preparations for the impeachment trial that could (but almost certainly won’t) end his presidency.

So, there’s a lot going on. Which may explain a few of the notable absentees this year, including France’s Emmanuel Macron, Canada’s Justin Trudeau, and the UK’s Boris Johnson, who is forgoing his champagne with billionaires in the lead up to Brexit day on January 31. Unsurprisingly Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has also skipped out, likely to avoid bumping into ‘You Know Who’.

In the lead-up to the Forum, large corporates capitalised early on the media spotlight to highlight their major announcements; with environmental concerns taking the spotlight. BlackRock, the world’s biggest asset management fund, made a splash when it announced it would no longer invest in major power-coal producers. Microsoft raised the stakes with its own ambitious programme, pledging to go ‘carbon neutral’ and remove all the carbon it’s ever created from the atmosphere by 2050.

Could this be the year that words are finally followed by action? Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg certainly hopes so and, a year on from the Davos speech that introduced the environmental activist to the world, her warning that “our house is on fire,” is more poignant than ever.

Are we entering a new age of corporate activism? Can businesses no longer rest on their laurels of economic performance? And whose aviation habits are going to expose them as the biggest eco-hypocrite? Buckle up: with this year’s theme the catchy ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World’, we’re about to find out all this, and more.

Every day for the rest of this week we’ll be sending you the latest cross-sector developments and outcomes from Davos. Here’s a quick snapshot:

Trump gets his moment

A pitch for power…In a clear sign that the US Presidential Election is imminent, Trump’s “special address” sounded more like a pitch for re-election. “The American dream is back; bigger, better, stronger than ever before”, he declared, listing his economic achievements since taking office. Although mentioning trade, Trump largely discussed domestic successes, including creating an “inclusive economy”, cutting taxes and deregulation, eager to claim America’s economic successes as his own.

A love letter to globalisation… China’s attitude towards globalisation continues to evolve, and perplex. It’s easy to forget just a few decades ago the country worked to restrict the free flow of capital, information, and goods between China and the rest of the world. But this week China’s Vice-Premier Han Zheng spoke warmly of China’s integration into the global economy, praising multilateralism, maintaining global growth and upholding the UN charter. Watch this space.

Looking ahead in politics: Today we have geopolitical pearls of wisdom to look forward to from newly-minted European Commissioner Ursula von der Leyen and Imran Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan.


Bright young things

While it’s the 50th World Economic Forum meeting, the gathering doesn’t show signs of ageing. In fact, rather like the hipster who has to stay young forever, WEF is welcoming “teenage change-makers” to its annual gathering to “boost collaboration between the generations”. Below is the perspective shared by FleishmanHillard’s own youth ambassador:

Greta, we’ve been expecting you!: Greta Thunberg was surprisingly quiet during her first panel, Forging a Sustainable Path Towards a Common Future, but she did pipe up to raise concerns that governments are treating climate change as a political, socio-economic crisis rather than a “global emergency.”

Our house is still on fire: Later in the day Greta, reiterated her message, arguing that, if the climate crisis is to be averted, we must move beyond political debates to practical solutions. She distanced herself from politics, saying “from a sustainability perspective, the right, the left as well as the centre have all failed. No political ideology or economic structure has been able to tackle the climate and environmental emergency.”

Looking ahead in youth & culture: Today we will see more of the world’s teenage change-makers take to the stage to advocate the power of youth and draw focus on some of the climate problems facing communities at both a global and local level.


Define business purpose to cure bad capitalism

A better future needs purposeful business: According to development economist Sir Paul Collier, humans have reverted to their ape-like instincts over the past 40 years; trading in trust, loyalty and higher purpose for laziness, selfishness and greed. Thanks for the compliment, Paul. He argues that this has shaped our corporate environment, leading to short-term, profit-first business management that lacks a defined purpose, harming society and the world around us.

AB InBev: Global business, local benefit: AB InBev’s Carlos Brito provided insight on how global business should provide local benefit, promoting financial inclusion with technology and local sourcing. For example, alcohol recipes using local ingredients across Africa help farmers prosper, while distributed ledger technology lets them prove they are profitable from their mobile phones. No longer is the business of alcohol just about giving people a good time.

CEOs and consumers at odds over environment and sustainability: A PwC report launched at the Forum shows that CEOs rank the environment and climate change as only the 11th greatest risks to business growth. They would do well to read the FleishmanHillard Authenticity Gap report, which shows that environmental factors rank high among consumers for reasons to support a business. There could be a nasty shock around the corner for business leaders who misunderstand what’s important to consumers today.

Looking ahead in business: Following this year’s theme of stakeholder capitalism, today we’ll be looking at what it takes to lead a 21st century corporation during of a time unparalleled scrutiny over the private sector.


Tech for good-ish?

Giants and unicorns: Big tech giants, antitrust issues and privacy infringements continue to dominate the tech agenda at Davos this year. Scrutiny is also being paid to the tech ‘unicorns’,  companies that have achieved the coveted $1bn valuation, following the drop in SoftBank’s valuation of companies like Uber and WeWork.

Tech beyond borders: Speaking on Bloomberg News from Davos, Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, argued that building walls doesn’t just cost a lot of money but will see countries fall behind in the global tech race. His call to support immigration comes on the tail of Microsoft’s earlier environmental pledges.

The great uncoupling: Ren Zhengfei CEO and founder of Huawei took to the stage to downplay the impact of the company’s US ban. “The US should feel proud of [Huawei…]. They should not be overly concerned about Huawei and our position in the world,” he said. Historian Yuval Noah Harari, also speaking from the stage, was more pessimistic, arguing that the age of rival investment between the US and China in AI should worry us all.

Looking ahead in tech: Today Alphabet chief executive Sundar Pichai engages in a dialogue with World Economic Forum founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab, over quantum computing, technology governance and, you guessed it, more AI.


Shaping the Future of Consumption

More transparency please: Walmart International’s Judith McKenna took part in a panel which highlighted that technology has ensured that consumers demand transparency from brands– they’ll choose brands that make their lives easier and reflect their values or contribute to society.


Live long and prosper

Building Resilient Health Systems – With one in six people projected to be over 65 by 2050 and most facing at least one or two chronic diseases, medical professionals and academics joined a panel debating the actions needed to build more resilient health systems. Alongside the talk, the WEF shared a link to five ways to build healthier societies.

Overriding evolution – Bayer’s Werner Baumann joined a panel of speakers from MIT, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and Nature journal for an in-depth, and often provocative, discussion on the principles, priorities and ethics of using new techniques for resurrecting extinct species or eliminating pests. Cue Jurassic Park theme tune…

Ending the stigma – Delegates joined a compelling conversation between actor and Crystal Awardee, Deepika Padukone, and Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, on mental illness while setting the scene for several upcoming sessions at this year’s summit.

Looking ahead in healthcare: Speakers will be sharing 20 years of lessons learned from Gavi, the leading vaccine alliance and one of the most successful public-private partnerships to date, while neuroscientist and stand-up comedian Sophie Scott explores why laughter can unite.


Join us for more insight from Davos in tomorrow’s digest.