Looking back on WEF 2020

I´ve just had the opportunity to visit the 50th Edition of the World Economic Forum Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Had you asked me two years ago when I started the Cambridge Masters in Sustainability Leadership whether WEF 2020 would place the subject in the centre of its deliberations, I would have been more than skeptical. After all, the Davos meeting is where “billionaires come to tell millionaires how the middle classes should live”.

To quote the organisers, today, we see the erosion of the international solidarity that forms the foundation of our global governance architecture. In their view, it seems unlikely that new multilateral initiatives or supranational bodies will be able to stem the decay. But this geopolitical reality is the reason why communities and networks are
forming to address pressing global concerns such as climate change, sustainable development and economic inclusion. Although interconnected, most operate independently of other stakeholders to the detriment of
achieving an even greater collective impact. Increasingly absent is the political and societal cohesion that enables such collaboration. WEF Claim for itself to be a platform where these necessary connections can be addressed:

1. How to address the urgent climate and environmental challenges that are harming our ecology and economy
2. How to transform industries to achieve more sustainable and inclusive business models as new political, economic and societal priorities change
trade and consumption patterns
3. How to govern the technologies driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution so they benefit business and society while minimizing their risks to them
4. How to adapt to the demographic, social and technological trends reshaping education, employment and entrepreneurship

Listening to the speakers and to the participants in my own session, I concluded that I have never before been to a conference where the subject of sustainability has dominated the debate. The Global Future Council Transformation Roadmaps placed sustainability at the centre of their recommendations. Multiple fringe meetings, outside the Red Zone of the conference, presented sometimes highly challenging reports which spoke truth to power. And of course, Greta and other young sustainability activists were given access and platforms. And yet, the question that I was asked most during and after the conference, was whether business is actually making real progress in evolving business models fast enough to be able to meet the challenge of the 1.5°C target?

To which I would answer “not yet”. So that´s what the next year´s challenge will hold. Working with clients to make sustainability part of corporate stategy and enabling leadership to make it part of everyone´s everyday jobs.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • pragmagreen says:

    Thank you for this very interesting account of your experience at WEF. It is always great to get such an insight into an event that is so widely marketed and yet so closed and mysterious for those who don’t have access. I completely agree with you that at the time when the course started, it was unimaginable that a complete WEF would be devoted to sustainability. At that time there were just a couple of sessions on sustainability topics, which, of course were neither on most CEOs agendas, nor on their wish-lists.

    I am truly looking forward to seeing the “fruits” of the WEF meetings and whether this would lead to better cohesion and better partnerships, which, as you rightly pointed out, are not strong enough at this point in time.

    While sharing the curiosity of whether this will be enough to achieve the Paris targets, I also found another challenging aspect of sustainability dominating WEF in the way it was this year. Namely, in my ideal world, I would expect sustainability not to be a separate topic, but an overarching one, a connecting one. Separating climate from other global trends, such as e.g. digitalisation seems difficult. Climate and ESG is inseparable from everything else dominating the global agenda, and I hope that next WEFs would no longer need to proclaim this separate, important topic of sustainability, rather it will be part of any political, economical or technical discussion.

    I hope this WEF was nonetheless a symbolic “Krönung” of your year-long leadership opportunity and a great inspiration for your future work with your clients. Well done and wishing you a lot of success!

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