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Headlines from the Davos Agenda

Which topics dominated at this year’s meeting of the World Economic Forum? Here are eight key themes from Davos 2021.

1. Stakeholder capitalism: Shifting toward inclusive growth

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that companies that commit to stakeholder capitalism perform much better than others because they invest in the long-term viability of the company.

We are moving from short-term shareholder-profit maximization to a world that is characterized by stakeholder responsibility

Klaus Schwab, Founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum.

Schwab added: “Now we must ‘walk the talk’ to establish a framework of metrics that allow everyone to see that a company is performing according to ESG [environmental, social, and governance] criteria.”

Alexander De Croo, prime minister of Belgium, explained why trust is essential: “Over the past years, all of us on the public side, on the private side, we’ve been talking so much about trust. This is a moment not to talk about trust but to show that we can be trustworthy.”

2. The race to net zero: A dominant narrative for government and business alike

“We need to create a global coalition for net zero that covers at least 90 percent of the population,” said António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations.

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, said that much work has been done, but there are multiple dimensions still to address, including a pricing mechanism; disclosure, to make sure levels are reached; investment in innovation; and carbon taxation.

President Emmanuel Macron of France urged companies to play an active role in reducing inequality within society. He said that more needs to be done to honor the commitments made in the Paris Agreement to protect the planet.

“President Biden is totally committed to this fight,” said US senator John Kerry, speaking about the United States’ rejoining the efforts to combat climate change. “We know we’ve wasted four years.”

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden noted: “Nobody in their right mind [. . .] denies this is an issue,” adding that Shell is committed to becoming a net-zero-emissions business by 2050 “or sooner.”

3. An opportunity for equality: Why governments and organizations must build back better

It could take more than a decade for billions of the world’s poorest to recover from the pandemic’s economic hit.

The private sector has a role to play, said Unilever chief sustainability officer Rebecca Marmot. “We need to reshape society and look at how companies can adopt a ‘new normal’ across their full value chain,” said Marmot.

“The world needs a ‘new social contract’ to enable people to live in dignity,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres. “A new social contract between governments, peoples, civil society, business, integrating employment, sustainable development, social protection, and based on equal rights and opportunities for all.”

“The business of business used to be business,” Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff explained. “Today, the business of business is improving the state of the world. [. . .] CEOs are more committed to running businesses for all stakeholders, not just shareholders,” said Benioff. “This is a pivotal year to look at the evidence.”

4. Digital regulation and responsibility: Europe speaks out on the need for a legal framework for social platforms

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, spoke powerfully about the potential negative effects of digital platforms:

We must also address the darker sides of the digital world. . . . We must nurture our democracy every day and defend our institutions against the corrosive power of hate speech, of disinformation, fake news, and incitement to violence.

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission

“We need to contain this immense power of the big digital companies because we want the values we cherish in the offline world also to be respected online. At its most basic, this means that what is illegal offline should be illegal online too.

“We want it clearly laid down that internet companies take responsibility for the manner in which they disseminate, promote, and remove content. [. . .] There needs to be a framework of laws for such far-reaching decisions. This is why the Commission launched the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act in December. This is our new rulebook for our digital market.”

5. Collaboration and the circular economy: Why open markets and supply chains are crucial to global success

“We’re in a critical situation with a recession worldwide, and poorer countries are suffering more,” said Peter Altmaier, Germany’s federal minister for Economic Affairs and Energy. “We need to rely more on open markets and multilateralism.”

Altmaier sees the recovery as an opportunity for synergies, such as greater investment in clean-energy solutions to help tackle climate change.

Carlos Brito, CEO of Anheuser-Busch InBev, spoke about how connected his business is to sustainability: “If we don’t use resources in a circular way and in an efficient way, there’ll be no planet left.” Pamela Coke-Hamilton, executive director at International Trade Centre, said that collaboration is critical, simply because “we have unprecedented things to do in an unprecedented time.”

6. Multilateralism: The need for global standards to support collaboration

“This is the hour of multilateralism,” said Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany. “If we want to have multilateral agreements, common standards have to be put down with regards to conditions of work and the environment.”

“We have to be very fast at finding new answers to digitalization,” Merkel added. “We need to address global monopolies, but going it alone won’t suffice to address them.”

Henadi Al-Saleh, chair of the board of directors at Agility, said that “a mindset shift is needed to move toward a more inclusive approach to addressing the principles of stakeholder capitalism. The twin shocks of oil prices and COVID-19 are taking their toll. Medium- and long-term recovery calls for a change, because it can’t be business as usual.”

“We need to develop new e-trade regulations,” said Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore. “We encourage all countries to come together to shape and grow the digital economy.”

7. The ongoing impact of AI and digital: How innovation and technology will affect the global workforce

The world of work is facing a dual disruption of accelerated automation and the devastating effects of COVID-19. The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2020 says that many businesses plan to reduce their workforce as a result of technology integration.

“We must have a vision to reform education and reskilling policy,” said Dharmendra Pradhan, India’s minister of petroleum, natural gas, and steel.

“Individuals, employers, and governments must engage together to support skilling efforts,” said Alain Dehaze, CEO of Adecco Group. “You need to stay relevant, as an individual and as a company.”

Vilas Dhar, president of the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation, said that artificial intelligence (AI) holds the promise of making organizations 40 percent more efficient by 2035. The end goal “is to create an artificial-intelligence-enabled society,” said Dhar, with AI being used to create genuine equality.

8. Equality of women: Gender parity at the heart of the recovery

The pandemic has created a “double-double shift” of at least 20 hours per week of additional work for women at home and is potentially exacerbating existing gender gaps.

We are at a crossroads for gender parity. We need to pull all levers, including flexibility, digital inclusion, and social means, as women take on the burden of unpaid work, including childcare.

Kevin Sneader, Global managing partner, McKinsey & Company

Michael Neidorff, chairman of Centene Corporation, said that 75 percent of Centene’s workforce are women, 55 percent of which are at or above the level of director. The company has inclusion programs in place and a child-development center to help attract and retain women. “It’s good business to make the investment in parity,” said Neidorff. “It’s not optional.”

Mexico’s secretariat of economy, Tatiana Clouthier, emphasized the importance of ensuring that women have opportunities to learn digital skills, while Bloomberg chairman Peter T. Grauer said that business leaders must set the tone when it comes to addressing inequity.

This piece was originally shared by Formative Content, in partnership with the World Economic Forum, and is posted here by permission.