The World Economic Forum on Corporate Citizenship Topics – With Focus on the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Another in the series – The Corporate Citizen and Society – the Dynamics of the Relationship

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

“Davos” – the annual gathering of the elite in business, politics, popular culture and journalism (and other corners of society) in the Swiss winter is familiar to most of us.

This event attended by more than 2,000 global thought leaders is staged by the World Economic Forum (WEF). Each January the meeting is convened and a steady stream of proclamations comes forth with positions discussed and often adopted by participants.

The steady stream of news from Davos, Switzerland not only in winter but throughout the year frequently touches on matters to be categorized in the wheelhouses of managers in corporate governance, corporate sustainability, corporate responsibility, investor relations, and corporate citizenship (and other functions).

The WEF stages conferences during the year in East Asia, Africa and South America; also, in the Middle East, China and India. But “Davos” is the well-known appellation for the winter meeting in the city of that name.

Because so many corporate leaders make commitments and “promises” for future action at Davos and other WEF regional meetings, it’s important for those reporting to the C-suite as well as in the suite and in board rooms to be aware of the promises of strategy to be adopted or adjusted, and expected actions to follow.

Here is a brief look at some of these recent proclamations to illustrate this.

The 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting (in January 2018) closed with a Call to Action to Globalize Compassion and Leave No One Behind.

This was an important gathering of 2,000+ leaders as the world’s attention continued to shift to “sustainability “ and related topics (such as global warming and transition to a low-carbon economy among the issues).

The meeting “celebrated” the spirit of inclusion, diversity and respect for human rights, putting people at the center of the story with a call to action, said one of the seven female co-chairs at the meeting, Sharon Burrow. “Let’s ensure that Davos 2018 is just the beginning of a movement where we globalize compassion and ensure a world in which no one is left behind.”

There were 400 separate sessions at the meeting, and one theme kept threading throughout: the need to embrace our common humanity in the face of the rapid technological changes ushered in by the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“The Fourth Industrial Revolution” (FIR) was earlier framed and addressed in spring 2017 by the WEF Center for the FIR with new network centers opening in India, Japan and the UAE; partners for the initiative include the governments of Bahrain, the UK and Denmark, the Inter-American Development Bank, Deutsche Bank, and others.

The year before the January 2018 gathering in Davos, WEF had assembled 700 leaders in September 2017 (during the UN General Assembly and Climate Week meetings in New York City) to announce public-private initiatives:

  • One was the “Fourth Industrial Revolution for the Earth” – a private-public sector initiative to identify and fund new ventures (and scale them!) to “harness technologies” to benefit the global environment.
  • The Global Battery Alliance to “clean up” battery industry supply chains.
  • A “National Task Force” in South Africa to close skills gap.
  • A Disaster Risk Innovation Fund to test and scale innovations using mobile technologies to help in humanitarian emergencies and disasters. This was organized with the help of the United Kingdom for International Development (UK DFID) and the GSM Association (GSMA), the trade group representing almost 1,000 mobile communications operators and 300 industry companies.

The 2017 meeting was the WEF’s inaugural “Sustainable Development Impact Summit” — intended to broaden public-private sector cooperation to meet the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and work to achieve the goals agreed to at the 2015 Paris climate summit.

What steps can public and private and social sector leadership take to put the “common humanity” theme into action? Here are some things agreed to at Davos:

  • The WEF published a report – “Towards a Reskilling Revolution” — providing guidance need to help millions of people find jobs lost due to technological change.
  • The WEF-led “IT Industry Skills Initiative” whose “SkillSET” portal aims to reach a million IT workers by 2021.
  • A new multi-stakeholder initiative is “Friends of the Ocean Action” — launching an “Ocean Action Track” to protect oceans, seas and marine resources vital to so many coastal and non-coastal nations.
  • Marc Benioff – founder, Chair / Co-CEO of Salesforce.com, pledged US$4.5 million funding through the Benioff Ocean Initiative.

Salesforce Chair/Co-CEO Benioff heads the 30,000 employee company, and was named by Fortune as one of the world’s greatest leaders, and by Harvard Business Review as one of the 10 Best-Performing CEOs. He was the co-chair of the summit.

He explained: “There is incredible tension between the dramatic innovation that is occurring and the issue of equality. The technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution offer the opportunity to drive progress to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”

(CEO Benioff has a new book out now – “Trailblazer: The Power of Business as the Greatest Platform for Change”.)

The summit was designed to accelerate the “successful achievement” of the UN SDGs.

  • The WEF’s “Closing the Gender Gap” is attracting state support in Latin America (Peru, Chile, Panama and Argentina were on board at the time of the meeting).
  • Corporate leaders from Alphabet, Coca-Cola Company, Royal Philips and Unilever teamed with governments of Indonesia, Nigeria, China and Rwanda to create the “Platform for Accelerating the Circular Economy” (PACE) to address the mounting problems posed by discarded electronics and the plastic waste stream through recycling these manufactured items back into economy for future use.

As developing economies bring more people into the middle class, the consumption of meat products rises (more animal protein is consumed).

While this is good for ranchers and meat packers it is seen as not so good for the global environment by climate activists and sustainable food activists.

And so out of Davos comes the “Meat: the Future” initiative, to help identify ways that animal meat and protein production can be made more safe (for all involved, including the animals), affordable and sustainable as the industry players work to meet growing consumer demand.

Thomson Reuters, Europol and WEF announced a partnership to raise greater awareness worldwide to help governments and industry fight financial crime and modern slavers. Key: Promoting more effective information-sharing and step up best practices in compliance.

And that leads to a currently-debated hot issue: the growing prevalence of “fake news”, especially in political circles and affecting local elections in developed democracies.

  • The Craig Newmark Foundation is collaborating with WEF; the aim is to bring tech /social media industry leaders together with stakeholders to address fake news issues. (Craig Newmark was the founder of Craig’s List and his philanthropy includes funding for journalism institutions such as the Poynter Institute and graduate schools for journalists.)

The WEF, through its Davos and regional gatherings, and an array of public-private sector initiatives, provides ample opportunities for corporate citizens – and their CEOs and boards – to identify and leverage opportunities to bolster existing core businesses and develop new and innovative ventures with and without partners.

In 2015, WEF was recognized as The International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.

We’ll continue to share news of interest related to the corporate sector from the World Economic Forum in this series of commentaries.

Note: In the public dialogue now about “purpose”, WEF developed its “Our Mission” statement years ago. “The Forum engages the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas. We believe that progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have th4e drive and influence to make positive change.”

Full statement here: https://www.weforum.org/about/world-economic-forum

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