Understanding the new phase of globalisation

Next week is an important one. We begin the week with the World Economic Forum’s annual gathering in Davos — an event that examines the major economic, political, technological, and social issues impacting our world. The week ends with the inauguration of U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump, whose campaign emphasized economic nationalism, a harder line on immigration, and a willingness to reassess trade agreements and foreign alliances. And U.S. politics is just one example of shifting national sentiments in the developed world. From Brexit to border-closings, and other examples seen in headlines, many elected and appointed officials are questioning their approaches toward immigration and trade and that approach is front and centre in the eyes of the public.

Against this backdrop, it’s easy to see why concepts of globalisation and direction of travel may be waning. The debate pitting globalisation against nationalism has powerful rhetoric behind it and is often featured in public and media discussions. But another equally important angle of the topic — the implication of digitization and technology — gets less attention.

Globalisation is about much more than cross-border flow of people, goods and services. It’s about how we are each connected, where we work, what we read online, who we trust, and where we learn. Cross-border communications and relationships foster innovation; they allow us to scale ideas; they allow us access to new worlds. Technology, connected with globalisation, has helped us stop epidemics, coalesce behind important causes, bring mobile services like banking to underserved regions, among countless other benefits.

Both the political and technological aspects of globalisation have an impact on employment — an issue that is at the heart of every politician and the public at large. A large proportion of CEOs we speak with believe that the majority of job losses are a result of automation — not globalisation. But if you listen to public discourse, it is often the opposite view. This is an important point because if we only focus on numbers or types of jobs lost without understanding where unemployment numbers stands or where new jobs are being created, we are only seeing a fraction of the picture leading to an erroneous and bad reputation of globalisation.

For those us who share that view — that globalisation’s pros outweigh its cons — it’s time to get in the game.

Going forward, we must expand our definition of globalisation, to correct its conflation with inequality, and intensify our engagement with it. For those us who share that view — that globalisation’s pros outweigh its cons — it’s time to get in the game. Although keeping immigrants and imports out may sound like a quick fix to workers struggling to keep up in the global, high-tech marketplace, it’s important to seek alternate solutions. We are now at the inflection point where the idea of making globalisation work for more people needs to be supported with action. This includes thinking through how we design curricula, how we train people, and how we communicate. The responsibility for this lies on the public and private sectors alike — and to take it a step further, almost all solutions will require partnerships across sectors.

So it’s no surprise that CEOs around the world are closely watching these topics. Next week, we will release our 20th CEO Survey. I was struck that while large numbers of business leaders told us it is becoming increasingly difficult to balance global competition and protectionism, the majority still focus on globalisation’s upsides.

As I explore these themes further in Davos, I look forward to sharing what I learn.