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Five lessons to be learnt from Davos 2019Published 30/01/2019
Artificial Intelligence, climate change and inequality were big on the agenda at this year’s World Economic Forum
Every year, thousands of politicians, business tycoons, academics, thinkers and celebrities descend upon Davos, Switzerland for the prestigious World Economic Forum (WEF), with this year’s event taking on the theme of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution”.
With a wide range of discussions in tow, from combatting wartime sexual violence and ending the mental health stigma, to the future of the World Wide Web and the fight against climate change, it can be tricky to pinpoint the event’s key outtakes.
Not to worry – we’ve done it for you.
- Gen Z has the power to make real change in the fight for climate action
Whilst many delegates flew into the resort on their private jets, 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg hopped on a 32-hour train journey to Switzerland to look some of the planet’s most powerful figures straight in the eye and accuse them of endangering her future.
Taking her growing School Strike 4 Climate Action initiative to the streets of Davos, the Swedish teen appeared unphased by the magnitude of her fellow panellists – Bono, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, acclaimed conservationist Jane Goodall and billionaire Marc Benioff.
Greta argued that the main solution to climate change is stopping our greenhouse gas emissions, starkly warning: “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.”
- Face-off: Regulation needed on facial recognition tech
As businesses grapple with the data age, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella called for regulation of facial recognition technology, as concerns about its intrusive and pernicious nature grow. He suggested that, while self-regulation is paramount in ensuring that facial recognition usage is “fair and robust”, government rules may also be needed.
Facial recognition tech can provide myriad benefits – from identifying missing children to diagnosing rare genetic diseases, but there are concerns over its ability to harm societal norms and allow mass state surveillance.
As this powerful technology advances, tight regulations must be put into place before the ominous future George Orwell sketched out 70 years ago in his dystopian classic “1984” becomes a reality.
- Technology has eroded trust, not created it
Trust – or lack thereof – was a major talking point at this year’s event, with attendees agreeing that a lack of faith in everything from government to social media companies has impacted society and increased inequality.
CEO of IBM, Ginny Rometty, urged Davos delegates to tackle the lack of trust “head on”, given the severity of damage to organisations if it is lost.
Along with keynote speakers, Davos billboards touted the importance of trust, with consulting firm Accenture erecting a large sign that reads: “Trust is the ultimate currency”.
- Corporations have a shared responsibility in the fight to curb plastic waste
CEOs were in the Davos hot seat this year over plastic waste, with green groups blaming them for fouling the ocean and activists urging governments to regulate them.
Fiery discussions ensued including one exchange in which founder of legal advocacy group Namati asked PepsiCo’s CEO if they could be hit with lawsuits for the damage they’ve caused.
During a panel discussion, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey argued that companies, governments and NGOs alike should be doing more to change consumer behaviour towards plastics.
One of the key unveils at this year’s event was Loop – a pilot waste-reduction programme which will deliver products such as orange juice in reusable bottles to shoppers, and pick up the empties for cleaning and re-use. PepsiCo, Unilever and P&G are among firms that back the scheme.
- The road to gender parity in politics and business is long
If Davos is a demographical representation of the elite, then it’s clear that we still have far to go in tackling the longstanding gender imbalance in politics and business.
The forum is very much male-dominated, with women making up only about one-fifth of all participants, and their number has only increased by one percent since last year. Despite a quota system that makes large corporations bring one woman for every four male attendees, it’s clear that progress is painfully slow.
So, how do we tackle this longstanding problem?
Ann Cairns, Vice-Chairman at Mastercard and regular Davos attendee explains that they are making Mastercard’s hiring process gender neutral, with aims to encourage applications from women, minorities and the LGBT community. However, she emphasises that it would be easier to recruit women for future leadership positions if such positions were already visibly occupied by women.
Davos has taken a similar view. At this year’s event, ninety-five percent of all panels with three or more speakers had both male and female participants – an improvement on a few years ago, when panel discussions were usually all-male. Let’s hope this is a step in the right direction.