While the Omicron variant derailed the World Economic Forum’s physical meeting in Davos earlier this year, leaders convened online to discuss the challenges facing the world
Imperial doesn’t just educate its students on theoretics; we seek to empower a new generation of decision-makers who will lead the business world into a better future. Therefore, it is important we tune into the key themes that surfaced at the virtual Davos 2022 conference and which will doubtless resurface at this month’s in-person event:
1. Nobody is moving fast enough on climate change
Imperial’s Centre for Climate Finance & Investment seeks to find solutions to climate change within capital markets through interdisciplinary research. By bringing together academics and industry decision-makers, Imperial wants to highlight new investment opportunities in the fight against the climate crisis.
Our call to action was echoed at Davos. “Nobody is moving fast enough”. Those were the words of John Kerry, US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, addressing a session on accelerating and scaling climate innovation. The transition to clean energy will need to up the pace, and the conference highlighted a few possible routes to explore. Can clean hydrogen be the silver bullet needed to decarbonise the planet? The transport sector was also singled out as a target area for innovation, specifically in India. New technologies such as electric vehicles, more efficient batteries, carbon-efficient cities and scalable projects are apparently the solution there.
Also crucial is the incentivisation of businesses. Anna Borg, President and Chief Executive Officer of Vattenfall, and Julie Sweet, Chair and CEO of Accenture, were clear when they highlighted the competitive advantage of implementing sustainability into business models now.
But once again, the underpinning premise of the conference shone through: businesses will need the full cooperation of governments to deliver an effective and sustainable solution to the climate crisis.
2. Collaboration is key
The Global Risks Report 2022 was clear in its findings: the world is tearing at the seams. The pandemic has widened divides along political, social and economic lines. In a perfect juxtaposition, the theme of Davos 2022 was one of collaboration – across nations but also across sectors and industries.
Professor Maurizio Zollo, Scientific Director of the Leonardo Centre on Business for Society, recognises this chasm too and believes the solution to be radical. He advocates a business revolution for all, everywhere. Professor Zollo firmly believes the only way to achieve sustainable growth for business without compromising the fate of the planet is to create “a new logic” to underpin the private sector.
Brian Moynihan, Chairman and CEO of Bank of America, said standardised and transparent cooperation between business, the public sector and investors has the power to move the needle of progress, in a session on ESG metrics. This point was perhaps expressed most poignantly by Matthias Maurer, European Space Agency astronaut, who joined the conference live from the International Space Station. “Our planet Earth is like one big spaceship,” he said. “We all need to work together to meet the challenges of our day.”
3. Brace yourselves! Digitalisation is speeding up
There was no shortage of praise for technology. But as the speed of the digital transformation increased during the pandemic, so did the magnitude of its potential. Professor Chris Tucci, of Imperial’s Centre for Digital Transformation, agrees with this outlook. His predictions for AI in 2022 tell an encouraging but cautionary tale. Cybersecurity threats and their potentially devastating impact on businesses featured in the agenda. No longer a matter of competitive advantage, training workers so their IT skills are up to date will be a “matter of survival”, according to Gary Sorrentino, Global Deputy CIO at Zoom.
On a more practical note, digital technology is based on microchips and Ursula von Leyden made headlines as she announced a new European Chips Act to support their development, production and use – demand in Europe will apparently “double over the next decade.”
Talks veered towards the Global Risks Report again, which highlighted the dangers of a digital world charging ahead while millions were still excluded from it. Success stories were highlighted, such as the EDISON Alliance. The movement was established last year to accelerate digital inclusion and help a billion people through access to affordable digital solutions by 2025.
4. Economic recovery must include everyone
Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank, said economic recovery from the pandemic was stronger than anticipated but that increasing divergence must be borne in mind. UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of the risk of “setting in stone a lopsided recovery”. Imperial is addressing this point through the work of the Leonardo Centre, which envisions a society where businesses pursue profit for societal impact.
For Indonesian President Joko Widodo the role of businesses in creating a new, inclusive global economy was clear as he expressed his desire to strengthen bonds between his government and the private sector. There was a call for CEOs to be “deliberate about their role in society and act in the interests of their employees, customers, communities and their shareholders”, in the words of Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock.
The theme of public-private partnerships once again became obvious; not just in tackling the pandemic, but in establishing a bright, inclusive future. More than 140 businesses showed support for the World Economic Forum’s Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics initiative. Guterres summarised the situation best when he said “we need to reform the global financial system in a way that it can work for all countries without being biased.”
5. Business can help prevent another health crisis
As G20 leader, Indonesia called for the launch of a new international health organisation in the mould of the International Monetary Fund. Outside of governments, the private sector can also contribute to a concerted global effort to prepare for the possibility of another health disaster. Through its Centre for Health Economics & Policy Innovation, Imperial has long researched and supported policies to improve global health. Its research focuses on the incentives that drive innovation at the organisational and individual levels, as well as the factors that contribute to the success of a health policy.
In the meantime, digital technology could play a major role in achieving health equity. Shobana Kamineni, Executive Vice Chairperson of Apollo Hospitals Enterprise, holds that digital technology is making healthcare proactive instead of reactive. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are a great example: after providing subsidised healthcare to its citizens to impressive results, the GCC is now looking to tweak its regulatory framework to attract private sector players into the market. It is the only way to meet the demand of the next two decades, said Armanat Holdings CEO Mohamad Ali Hamade.
Imperial College Business School will be in Davos alongside the World Economic Forum from 22–26 May 2022. We will be holding a series of events on the theme of “Transforming Organisations, Transforming Markets” – an opportunity to explore some of the most pressing challenges and exciting opportunities facing business today.