It’s time to rewrite the rules of the global economy.
World leaders are standing up for a shared future at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018.
No more silence. No more inaction. No more business as usual.
At last, it seems like a shift of consciousness is rising towards the new realities we all face, as women and men, young and elderly, from workers to CEOs, politicians to scientists, teachers and environmentalists, artists and community workers. Because it’s our and the next generations’ shared futures, that are at stake.
And so it happened, that last week, at World Economic Forum’s 48th Annual Meeting, a number of today’s world leaders and decision-makers, decided to speak up for those, who will probably never take part in Davos, Switzerland. Founded by Klaus Schwab in 1971, the Forum aims at fulfilling its ‘commitment to improving the state of the world’.
This year’s motto: Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World couldn’t be more suitable at these times. As we’re finding ourselves at the turn of an era of open questions, whether you turn to the future of work and emerging technologies, the challenges in food and agriculture for a growing population, the impacts of climate change or the rise of populism and continuous migration all over the world — the Human Flow.
Wherever you look, you can see inequality, isolation and injustice, a disproportionate nature at the present time. Therefore, I feel a deep urge to share the powerful and meaningful messages from the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, #WEF18, last week, which inaugurated a holistic, positive social change and — similar to the mission of the Time’s up initiative founded in Hollywood — addressing inequality, injustice and lacking inclusion.
It’s time to change the rules of the global economy and society, as each of us is called to stand up, speak up and take action.
5 conditions for the rewritten narrative:
1. Find and live out a sense of purpose
This applies to both individuals, organizations and our economic system. As artificial intelligence and automation will increasingly disrupt the status quo, we need to start moving. In the way we perceive work and jobs, how we understand the role of economy, why and what we consume and why we build businesses. The ultimate question is: ‘Why do you exist?’ and where will you find meaning and purpose, if we continue working like machines and following the rules of the industrial era and short-term profit maximization?
We can no longer continue like this, and luckily, the discussion around purpose-driven business has risen globally, along with new organization models (Frederic Laloux’ Reinventing Organizations has even made it all the way to China).
But what I would call a real watershed moment was the annual letter ‘A Sense of Purpose’ by Larry Fink, the CEO of the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock, also cited in Justin Trudeau’s speech at the #WEF18. Addressing the CEOs of the over 5,7 trillion USD in assets under management, Larry Fink emphasizes the need for a strong, social purpose to connect with employees, clients, and stakeholders:
“Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate. Without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential.”
This could be the first step, and it certainly is a sign of hope for a purpose-driven shift in the business system. Thanks to the success of Simon Sinek’s ‘Start With Why’ TEDx Talk, non-profit organizations such as B Corp and a changing mindset in the Millennial generation, more and more companies are starting to join the purpose movement. Even Unilever, a corporate giant which could be a controversial topic to discuss, and yet its CEO, Paul Polman again stated his belief in looking for a deeper sense of purpose that goes beyond self-interest at the #WEF18 session ‘Standing Up for Social Progress’. Sharan Burrow, General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), who equally participated in the discussion, strongly advocated for a new social contract and human rights to become a fundamental part of the business.
2. Enable sustainable growth and aim for long-term value
Along with purpose as the core of business comes the necessity of rethinking the sustainability of business and creation of long-term value. We need a counterbalance to the fast ‘build — scale — exit’ logic of the startup industry. And again, the choice in favor of sustainable development and healthy growth of companies depend on today’s financing opportunities.
Here again, Larry Fink promotes a change towards a new, more responsible model of shareholder engagement and the importance of a diverse board, which, he emphasizes, is better to identify opportunities that promote long-term growth.
“In the current environment, these stakeholders are demanding that companies exercise leadership on a broader range of issues. And they are right to: a company’s ability to manage environmental, social, and governance matters demonstrates the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth, which is why we are increasingly integrating these issues into our investment process.”
3. Value and reinforce inclusion and equality
What had started to emerge out of the horrific number of sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood has since then fueled the discussion on diversity, gender equality and the discrimination of women (at work) turned into initiatives, global Women’s marches and equally attracted attention at the #WEF18. There, women still only represent one-fifth of attendees, but, Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, and political leaders like Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, are speaking up to helping women truly fulfill their potential and stop discrimination and abuse of women.
Being a well-known supporter of diversity and inclusion, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave a remarkable speech, in which he argued, that much of the country’s economic growth over the past decades could be related to more women joining the workforce, as found in his recent study.
“I’m talking about hiring, promoting and retaining more women(…) Not because it’s the right thing to do or the nice thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do. But there is still so much room for improvement, and such enormous benefit to be had.”
4. Be open and brave for collaboration and co-creation
A shared future implies shared interests, knowledge, efforts — and, back again to what Klaus Schwab has called ‘a fractured world’, it has become more important than ever to put these pieces together.
Both digitalization and globalization hold great potentials to actually create a reunited world. Yet, this requires openness, willingness and a responsible commitment of all players.
Just like German Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted the importance of a reunited European Union, Klaus Schwab also placed the relevance of collaboration in the center:
“The big issues in our world cannot be solved by governments alone, by business alone, or by civil society alone. We need collaborative efforts.”
Moreover, as a representative of the digital economy and rising China,
Jack Ma, founder and chairman of Alibaba Group repeatedly underlined how globalization could enable a more inclusive economy of co-created value:
“I think globalization cannot be stopped — no-one can stop globalization, no-one can stop trade. If trade stops, the world stops. Trade is the way to dissolve the war not cause the war. But it must be simple and modernized; it must be inclusive so everyone has the same opportunity. The next generation of globalization must be inclusive.”
5. Join in to build a human future
After all, whichever future scenario of our economy and society each of us will aim for, I hope that it will, at least, place the human at the core.
Yuval Noah Harari, author of the popular book ‘Sapiens’, was invited for the first time to the #WEF18, where he advocated for lifelong learning and stated, that mental and emotional resilience is the only thing you should be investing in.
Because at the end, no one can really know if coding skills will help you to secure your work, whether corporates will actually put purpose before profit, startups choose long-term growth instead of rapidly making it to the IPO watch shortlist or if boards will reach a 50/50 gender balance.
Still, what each and every one of us is able to do, is to stand up, take responsibility and lead with purpose. Time’s up to sit, wait and complain. Become an activist and co-create a shared future you want to live and work in! It’s time.