But WEF in Klosters, Davos, is becoming increasingly important, not only for economic growth, but also for the welfare of people on many levels, from education, health and mindfulness.
WEF took place between January 17- 20. This year’s theme was “Responsive and Responsible Leadership”, and now, more than ever this is what the world needs. Leaders in their fields who are responsible, who bear in mind that their actions affect billions of people.
But there is the “Other Davos” that is very rarely spoken about, the Davos where a handful of people attend invite-only events. There discussions revolve around how technology is harnessed to save lives; highlighting the plight of human trafficking and also providing a glimpse into the horrific conditions that refugees face every day.
It is also a space where the African agenda can be pushed, and while at times it seemed like an insurmountable task, the continent is slowly starting to feel the positive effects of constant lobbying.
Last week I was appointed to the Stewardship Board of the WEF “Shaping the Future of Information and Entertainment System Initiative”. It is here that the African agenda can be pushed even harder to ensure that Africa benefits from the information and technology revolution.
At the Forum Advisers Board dinner, the many examples of how companies are positively impacting on the future indicates a strong hope that humankind is able to address the many challenges facing us today and in the future.
However, WEF has many critics - that it is where the world’s elite meet, and detractors question how relevant the forum is, in a world where populism is gaining ground.
The people who have made this observation are half correct. Firstly it is elitist, you can’t get away from that, it is the businesses elite, the top 1 000 in the world. But it is also the government, multilateral institutions, academic institutions, civil society groupings (such as Oxfam, Greenpeace), tech pioneers, social entrepreneurs, global shapers and young global leaders.
It is an elite in the sense that the delegates invited to attend are based on excellence in their areas of expertise, be it business or other fields of endeavour.
Last year the discussion revolved around the fourth industrial revolution, where issues like the impact of robotics, the internet of things, gene splicing and Artificial Intelligence took centre stage.
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The notion that people go to Davos to be seen and just walk away without making a contribution, or seeing a change in themselves doesn’t work. It is a place for networking, hearing what people have to say and meeting experts. Panellists come from a cross section of society and partnerships are born.
This year, for the first time, the Chinese President Xi Jinping was there, a flag bearer for globalisation at a time when the US is retreating into protectionism. China sees the world growing globally and the importance of being part of a world-wide movement of people and resources.
Even though there has been global economic growth, we cannot ignore the criticism. While living standards have improved for many, the wealth gap has widened and jobs have become redundant, largely due to the impact of technology and globalisation. That is why people like Donald Trump get elected. They say what people want to hear, whether their promises are going to manifest or not.
This is another reason why Davos is important, to make sure that the world does not plunge into a socio-economic political abyss. One of WEF’s roles in this crucial time is to ensure more people are lifted out of poverty, that gains are made in education, that the notion of education is changed irrevocably, that we pay heed to sustainable development and climate change.
But neither business nor government can do this alone.
Davos is what you get out of it. My interests are in the well-being of people and how we can make the world a better place. When I am at Davos or other WEF meetings, I look for partnerships in all spheres. Partnerships that will benefit the continent, my country and its people.
Partnerships worth exploring could be, as an example with Colombian singer Shakira and American actor Forest Whitaker and the purpose-driven group, Black Eyed Peas.
The former two were recognised for their efforts to improve the lives of young people through conflict resolution and early childhood education. It is well-known that African youth are the most marginalised in the world. Shakira and Whitaker are doing good in terms of philanthropy through their respective foundations.
I had the opportunity to engage for the third consecutive year with Will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas and this year he brought his band members along.
The band members told their story of how they emerged as migrants from different parts of the world and from the ghettoes of the US, how they had to overcome many challenges, both personal (eg cancer, in the case of Taboo) and societal.
Instead of celebrating their success, they are committed to education for underprivileged groups, especially in the Philippines. Their session at Davos on “Where is the Love?,” was an opportunity to listen to stories of hope such as that of a nomadic woman from Chad, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, co-ordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT).
Ibrahim could stand on a world stage, talking about how she and her mother were ostracised for refusing that she be a child bride, her fight for education and how she learnt English. Her story and fight for rights for survival brought many a participant in this WEF session to tears.
Meeting people like her and Will.i.am of super group Black Eyed Peas, in my “Other Davos” experience gives me hope that we can keep change lives, give hope to many and walk bravely into the future. It is indeed a story of hope when an indigenous woman from Chad can stand on a world stage and address this global audience.
While there are a number of meetings, discussion forums, events and networking sessions, there are also invite-only events. It was at these events where technological innovations were discussed and how it could be used for the betterment of humankind and how mindful storytelling is bringing change to the mindsets of many people.
Orbital Insight developed satellites so powerful that it homed in on a ship used to traffic hundreds of women in Indonesia’s waters. The women were freed and the crew arrested.
The technology was also used to pinpoint where overfishing was happening and, importantly to map climate change. It is this kind of innovation and technology that will guide us into the future, and this is what the fourth industrial revolution can do.
While many are hesitant about the fourth industrial revolution, there are technological advances like HealthTap, developed by Ron Gutman. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) gives millions of people access to credible health information.
The “Other Davos” is a place where human resilience is not only celebrated, but where tears can be shed after using Augmented Virtual Reality headsets, to “walk through” a refugee camp and seeing the pain, horror and suffering that has become the daily reality of millions fleeing from their war-torn countries.
The “Other Davos” is a place where the Afghan Women’s Orchestra performed at the closing ceremony, at a time where Afghani woman have very few rights, and are not allowed to play musical instruments. In many ways their presence symbolised the soul through music of “The Other Davos”.
* Dr Survé is the executive chairman of the Sekunjalo Group.