In December 2018, I received an email that I had been given the opportunity to participate in the Future Global Leaders Program (FGLP) in Davos, Switzerland and attend the World Economic Forum (WEF) in January 2019.

As an economics graduate with a keen interest in global, economic and social updates I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to gain a better insight on global leaders’ opinions on various political happenings such as Brexit and the much discussed ‘US-China trade war’.

In order to make the best of this opportunity I researched into WEF and its history, agenda and the major organisations involved in the Forum such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Goals.

The World Economic Forum was established in 1971 by Klaus Schwab and is “committed to improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas” (World Economic Forum Mission).

This gave me greater insights in the Sustainable Development Goals and global challenges faced especially by developing countries. The theme of this year’s WEF was Globalisation 4.0 which addressed important issues such as climate change, technology, and sustainability.

Due to my MSc Strategic Marketing  programme at Imperial and coursework deadlines, I had to forgo the first two days of the Forum which involved interacting with will.i.am, Founder and CEO of i.am+ and a global philanthropy talk featuring the Maverick Collective founder Kate Roberts. However, I was looking forward to a panel discussion with Bill Gates and Susan Desmond-Hellmann on Impact Investing.

I attended lectures at Imperial until the afternoon and reached Zurich on Tuesday evening, it was a hectic experience. Taking the train was the most efficient way to arrive at Davos-Platz and the rush of having to switch trains twice in Zurich HB and Landquart within a six-minute window was a precursor to the excitement and energy that Davos had to offer. Furthermore, with temperatures as low as -18, it took a while to adjust from London’s climate.

Arriving late in the evening I met the rest of the participants at Piano Bar, a social informal environment for WEF attendees to socialise. It was a great experience to meet Ray Dalio, the founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, who had shared his scepticism of global markets in 2019 and warned of an economic downturn in 2020 with CNBC, earlier in the day.

With Ban Ki-moon ex-Secretary General of the United Nations

The next morning, I attended a CNBC talk with Federico Marchetti, the CEO of YOOX Net-a-Porter Group. It was a highly engaging conversation in which Federico discussed that AI and human craftmanship work seamlessly together in the luxury industry – this was his vision in 1999, as reflected by the name of the company (YX are human chromosomes and 00 is computer code).

Following that was a breakfast panel discussion with Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Board Chair of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and Former Minister of Finance in Nigeria. Both women discussed the importance of female development in Africa as well as Southeast Asia and how they see women significantly contributing more to the global economy in the coming decade.

The highlight of the trip was the panel discussion by Bill Gates, in which he discussed that investing in ways to reduce poverty and disease was as challenging as working in tech. However, over the last two decades it’s been generating a lot more returns to society. For example, since founding Gavi, the mortality rate of infants (0-5 years) has dropped to about 40% of what it was in the 2000s. The Gates foundation has put $10 billion into organisations such as Gavi, the Global Fund and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Bill made a compelling point regarding diseases; he said that until we reduce certain diseases to zero, we can’t take it easy as there’s a chance it could still multiply. But if you multiply anything by zero, it is still zero. Peter Sands, the Executive Director of the Global Fund, said in order to eradicate Tuberculosis, he is targeting to raise $14 billion by November 2019, a challenge he said would be difficult yet possible. Bill Gates also stressed that the political scenario in the US is something he would never have been able to foresee a decade ago, yet urged governments to contribute to the cause of the Global Fund.

Bill Gates Discussing Investment in Healthcare

Another highlight of the trip was interacting with Cherie Blair, wife of former Prime Minister Tony Blair. She discussed her own challenges of pursuing her career as a Barrister and anecdotes about how she faced challenges living in 10 Downing Street. She discussed the Brexit scenario very briefly and was hoping for the best possible result for the UK as well as Europe.

With wife of former Prime Minister, Cherie Blair

Overall, going to Davos taught me a lot about the challenges we face as society on a global scale. Bill Winters, CEO of Standard Chartered bank and formerly co-head of JPMorgan Chase’s investment bank, mentioned that last year there was a lot more optimism in Davos and it wasn’t particularly a great year – so we should expect the opposite as there was scepticism this time around. Trust was the buzz word of the year used by many leaders, as they believe only time will tell if 2019 is to be a successful year post the Forum.

Attending the World Economic Forum was a great learning curve. Many CEOs and politicians referred to us as ‘Davos virgins’ and mentioned that it’s up to the next generation of leaders to work on fulfilling global society’s expectations. This trip has inspired me to apply to the Global Shapers organisation hub in London, a community trying to make an impact London and the wider world.

Rushab Bhatnagar is a student on our MSc Strategic Marketing programme