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Tilder Tribune: an agenda for Davos to become a true summit of action

By Bertrand Chambenois – Partner at Tilder

Since its creation in 1971, the Davos Forum has often been criticised, labelled the archetypal cabal where the powerful gather to apportion the world, just as after the Second World War Europe was shared among the victorious. But this time, however, it seems that the global political and social situation, at least in the West, has given a special character to this summit.

Faced with an admission of the political and economic failure of the liberal democratic model in its dual mission of creating shared wealth for the greatest number of people and guaranteeing universal representation, the political consequences have already been felt in many countries. While the American, Italian and Brazilian peoples have chosen to bring leaders with populist or authoritarian leanings to power, other countries such as France and the United Kingdom are currently teetering on the brink, hovering between social unrest and a leap into the economic void.

Under these conditions, what can we hope for from Davos and the world’s elites more generally in terms of their response to these movements, all of which share the common thread of deep anti-elite roots?

First of all, it is a question of having expectations proportionate to the role and capacity for action of these elites. For example, the business world cannot resolve global inequalities alone. Business leaders are generally employees themselves with shareholders, creditors and even competitors who often cause their room for manoeuvre to be just as limited as that of over-indebted countries.

Furthermore, it is imperative to make Davos the true summit of action and commitments. It is urgent that business leaders, like politicians, commit to addressing the concerns of people for whom globalisation is more often a hindrance than an opportunity. The business world has long taken the attitude that addressing these concerns is the role and responsibility of States, but faced with the difficulties that States encounter in attempting to produce effective and sustainable solutions, companies can no longer fail to meet their social responsibilities.

It is now time to move beyond slogans and take concrete action to transform the words “meaning”, “responsibility” and “mission” into actions that reduce inequalities. These are not necessarily inequalities in income, but may be inequalities in terms of access to knowledge, mobility, connection or nutrition, all of which are fundamental rights that are now accessible in most globalised cities but which become much less in evidence as we move away from them.

This objective is all the more achievable because some companies, generally led by committed and visionary leaders, are already succeeding where governments have failed. For example, since its creation, the American company Salesforce has been committed to ensuring that its employees devote 1% of their annual working time to philanthropic projects. Unilever has gained widespread recognition and distinction for its nutrition education programmes involving health professionals. In both cases, inclusive globalisation is no longer just a slogan but a reality. And needless to say, these two companies, however different they may be, have enviable economic performance, demonstrating that it is possible to combine meeting the requirements of profitability with the need for social utility.

It is not so much a question of trying to “save the planet” as of choosing what each company can hope to do to make a real difference in the lives of people, whether they are its employees, customers or ordinary citizens. It is therefore up to those accustomed to summits such as Davos to follow this path, but this time by stepping up and making a commitment in front of their peers. Only then will we be able, year after year, to monitor the impact of these decisions and, in so doing, renew the raison d’être of the World Economic Forum.

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