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Insider Insight: 8 Lessons From Davos 2017

Seven leaders share what they learned at this year’s World Economic Forum

Every January, leaders in global policy, philanthropy, business, finance, technology, entertainment, humanitarian work and more debate the world’s key social, political and economic challenges at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. This year, the speaker list featured world leaders such as President Xi Jinping of China, then-U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden and Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom. The program covered a breadth of topics ranging from the fourth industrial revolution, fixing market capitalism and restoring economic growth to building positive identities and global collaboration. With the U.S. election and Brexit vote, the future of globalization was on everyone’s mind.

We asked seven YPO members who attended Davos to share their top insights from the 2017 program.

The geopolitical landscape is shifting.

“The WEF 2017 was certainly different from past years – physically, as well as in terms of the mood,” says Roland Berger Senior Partner and CEO Charles-Edouard Bouée, from New York, New York, USA. “Americans were less visible whereas the Chinese delegation accompanying President Xi Jinping appeared much more present. And while in 2016 everyone was optimistic no matter what analysts said about the economic outlook, global leaders are now worrying what the geopolitical future holds — and were thus very cautious about expectations and investments.”

Asia will have a bigger role in the future of globalization.

“People are giving ASEAN a second look,” says VinaCapital CEO Don Lam, from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. “In the past, some observers derided the organization as slow-moving and of questionable efficacy. The EU has until recently been viewed as the gold standard for economic integration. But Brexit (and the prospect of one or two other countries leaving in the next year or so) has caused many to re-examine what the EU is trying to accomplish. ASEAN’s more limited scope, its focus on consensus and its more measured approach to integration is yielding results. Its bureaucracy is smaller and nimbler, and its ambitions more realistic — a common currency for ASEAN is not likely to be in the cards in the near term, if ever.”

Technological advances are changing the way we do business.

“This year, there was an increased emphasis on emerging technology both in terms of scientific advances and societal impact, including impact of the workforce and skills needed for the future,” says BSA The Software Alliance President and CEO Victoria Espinel, from Washington, D.C., USA. “Artificial intelligence dominated discussions this year but there was also focus on blockchain, internet of things and 3D/4D printing. With all the complex systems that are emerging, including internet of things, cybersecurity and how companies could best manage threat was a topic of repeated discussion.”

Education is key to bringing the rest of society on board with technology.

“The narrative of automation and AI was in the midst of every conversation and how newer technologies have this duality to take away jobs of the past to create jobs of the future,” says Infosys President and Deputy Chief Operating Officer Ravi Kumar S, from New York, New York, USA. “It is our responsibility to manage this transformational change for making the world a better place.”

“Artificial intelligence is moving at a pace that is faster than I had realized,” says Junior Achievement (JA) Worldwide President and CEO Asheesh Advani, from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, who is also a member of the WEF Council on the Future of Education, Gender and Work. “There is urgency to reforming the education system to avoid the prospect of a skills gap and high youth unemployment in the next 10 years.”

It’s time for leaders to step up.

“The responsibility of our political leaders has never been greater as state influence on our societies has grown considerably stronger in recent years,” says Bouée. “Not only did governments regain control in the aftermath of the economic and financial crisis when a new ‘regulated and integrated’ financial architecture was created and regulatory requirements were significantly tightened, but many of them are also not afraid of using their new power position over businesses. In this new world, which is less ‘liberal’ than it was just a few years ago, and also more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA), we as young leaders from all over the globe must accept our own leadership responsibility towards citizens. A responsibility that goes beyond our companies’ spheres of influence and cannot only be seen in the narrow sense of managing our companies.”

Leaders need to become influencers.

“The difference in trust between leader and institution is at the lowest levels since the financial crisis, which means that leaders can’t continue to use their authority without rebuilding influence,” says Clique Advisor Justin Connor, from Washington, D.C., USA. “The best way to do this is to be completely transparent in your decision-making with all company stakeholders — employees, customers, etc.”

Responsible leadership extends beyond a single enterprise.

“The biggest topics were related to how communities across the world are struggling to navigate a sense of pessimism and negativity, and how we need a responsible leadership to address our collective challenges to go beyond our narrow interests to attend the interests of our global society,” says Ravi Kumar S.

We need to create a more inclusive conversation.

“There was discussion around how businesses can play a more active role in addressing socio-economic challenges and trying to alleviate some of the negative consequences of those challenges. A challenge that the Davos community faces is how solutions can be rolled out without the presence of certain key stakeholders,” says Crescent Enterprises CEO Badr Jafar, from Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. “How can one address the role of business if we are not including as part of that conversation 80 percent of businesses around the world which are the small and medium enterprises? We need to be realistic about the gaps and make sure that the conversation is truly an inclusive conversation.”

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