WEF 2018 concluded on a more positive note than what was expected prior to the event. World leaders from business and politics discussed and debated on many perceived ‘threats’ – inequality brought on by technology, gender imbalances and challenges/implications of environmental issues.
I followed commentary from the WEF representatives and major publications to decide what discussions would have the most impact on our industry and our region. Below are my takeaways:
- Geopolitical crisis: The Global Risks Report published annually by WEF states this as one of the top concerns, not surprisingly. But the broader conversation at Davos was more about increasing populism and how it threatens the idea of ‘globalization’. Jack Ma of Alibaba believes “no one can stop globalization like no one can stop trade” (refer here for his interesting perspectives on other topics).
- Cyber security: The same report puts risks posed by cyber security breaches and data fraud/theft in the ‘top 5 risks for 2018’. This combined with the wariness expressed by leaders regarding the growth/control of technology behemoths like Facebook, Google and Amazon could perhaps result in more regulations/safety checks by government bodies. Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff went on to say, “social networks should be regulated like the cigarette industry”.
- Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning: It was a trending topic at Davos with merits and demerits hotly debated. Sundar Pichai of Google said, “AI will be more profound than electricity or fire”. The consensus seems to be that technology will enable all industries without exception to function more efficiently. However, there will be widespread disruption to the current work culture. But ‘business is more than the bottom line’ is a popular theme with CEOs with a commitment for greater employee welfare initiatives and larger social causes. We have seen a rising trend among consumers to evaluate brands on social consciousness.
- Blockchain: The other technology that was discussed at length, again with a mix of enthusiasm and skepticism. Cryptocurrencies have not yet got the ‘nod’ from major financial leaders. Robert Shiller who wrote books on ‘bubbles’ (dot-com, housing market, bonds) thinks Bitcoin is a classic example of one. But the technology is being seen in a far more positive light. The benefits of a decentralized and transparent system are thought to benefit industries, across different disciplines.
- Gender issues: The ‘all women co-chaired’ WEF 2018 is seen as a commitment from the business and world leaders in combating gender imbalances. Many issues that have been in the news recently were topics of discussion in many panels.
I am glad that WEF has set a positive tone for 2018 and that there is an obvious willingness among the leaders to work together to make this year’s theme “creating a shared future in a fractured world” a reality.