WEF: Why it Matters

gr-wef-logoThe World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting begins tomorrow in Davos, Switzerland. With a mission to improve the state of the world, the Annual Meeting often shapes the agenda of the political, economic and social landscape for the year ahead. This year’s theme, Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, promises to be one of the most compelling in the organization’s 40-plus year history.

Each year, all eyes are on Davos, high up in the Swiss Alps, as more than 2,000 heads of business, government officials, and nonprofit and religious leaders convene to discuss some of the world’s most pressing issues and plan for the future.

With as much attention as the Annual Meeting gets, it’s still somewhat of a blackbox to outside observers. Why is it important to take part in this annual event (click to tweet)?

For Ketchum, there are several reasons we participate each year. As our CEO Rob Flaherty wrote last year, participating in the Annual Meeting gives us an opportunity to develop important relationships with government and NGO leaders, allows us a role in shaping agendas and policies that have a profound impact on our clients, and provides a forum for us to actively discuss timely societal issues. And equally important, it gives us a unique opportunity to spend time with our clients in this impactful setting.

And, why is it important to our clients to be there? From varying sectors, our clients have different objectives for attending, but a common thread is the unprecedented access to peer leaders and the opportunity to participate in conversations that can help shape the state of the world. I interviewed some them as we were preparing to make the trip. Here is what they had to say:

Ryan Erenhouse, Vice President of Thought Leadership at MasterCard:
“We have found that the World Economic Forum is a one-stop shop where MasterCard can accomplish three important objectives: thought leadership, business development and advocacy. Over the course of just a few days, our executives can meet with government leaders, partners and customers from countries around the world and share our view on global challenges, from creating inclusive economic growth and improving delivery of aid for refugees, to ensuring security and privacy in an increasingly connected world.

The one session I hope everyone has a chance to attend is ‘A Day in the Life of a Refugee’ – a powerful interactive experience designed to help delegates understand the struggles and choices that refugees face to survive each day. Last year, I participated in ‘Struggle for Survival’ about living on less than $2 a day and found it to be incredibly (and emotionally) impactful. This year’s timely experience gives us a chance to discuss with former refugees and field workers ways to get involved and learn about new technologies being deployed to help deliver aid more effectively.”

Kim Metcalf-Kupres, Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Johnson Controls:
“As a strategic partner, Johnson Controls values our membership and global engagement opportunities we have through the World Economic Forum’s efforts and events throughout the year. The annual conference is a unique opportunity to put the individual threads of these efforts together for integrated dialogue at the highest levels with global leaders from industry, public service, academia and nongovernmental organizations. Active participation by our senior leaders helps round out our thinking by continually providing new data, insights and diverse perspectives. As a company, Johnson Controls is actively engaged as an industry partner in the Energy and Automotive sectors, which are relevant to our multi-industrial businesses. And, every year we value the extensive opportunities the Forum creates to personally meet with senior leadership from our customers, suppliers, strategic partners and thought leaders from around the world.

As a CMO with responsibility for strategy and growth, at this year’s conference I will be personally focused on the themes surrounding technology and global urbanization. I plan to participate in several topical sessions in this area including digital transformation, innovation, energy, and developing and maturing markets, and I will personally meet with other leaders who share these interests. As a member of the Agenda Council on Gender Parity, I also will participate in as many sessions as possible on the great work that this community is doing to address social justice, gender bias and parity challenges around the world.”

Jonas Neihardt, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Hilton Worldwide:
“The World Economic Forum’s agenda addresses issues that are transnational and difficult for any one nation to solve alone. For example, in recent years, the Forum has coordinated advancements in the modernization of international travel visa systems that will make it easier for individuals to travel internationally while also improving border security. This year, the Forum will release a white paper that shares best practices in travel security and discusses the international sharing of a common data set for travelers to further enhance traveler and border security.

This year I am participating in a panel that addresses human trafficking. I am happy to say that the World Economic Forum will announce at Davos an official project to address this vexing transnational problem. The World Economic Forum has the unique ability to call together major global employers, other NGOs, and government leaders to advance and share best practices to help eliminate this practice.”

Bob Carrigan, CEO, Dun & Bradstreet:
“The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to get real-time perspective from leaders representing a wide variety of industries on important topics. The theme of the Meeting, Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is also of particular interest to me and for my company, Dun & Bradstreet. I look forward to contributing to the discussion about how technology can be deployed in ways that contribute to inclusive growth. At Dun & Bradstreet, we have aligned our company around the vision that relationships drive growth, and that in the modern, digital age, data drives relationships.

This is my first time at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. I’ve always wanted to attend to meet really interesting people and explore wide-ranging topics. As a first-time participant, I look forward to contributing to conversations and also doing a lot of listening to conversations to gain context and insight. For me it’s also about how I share this experience with my team and our worldwide partners and customers. I’m eager to engage with them about my experience and work together to be more innovative and responsive to broader economic and societal issues.”

For me personally, the opportunity to return to the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is meaningful for a number of reasons.  First, it is an intellectual stretch that affords me the chance to expand my global perspective and think about how the fourth industrial revolution will impact how we counsel our clients and evolve our business. Second, attending the Annual Meeting five years ago inspired me to become an advocate for enhancing women’s leadership opportunities, and this year I hope my voice on the Breaking Gender Biases panel inspires more women and men to make changes toward parity. Third, there’s always unexpected delights, such as my 15-minute conversation with Bono on the tram the last time I was in Davos about how to engage millennials in environmental causes. I can think of no other venue that has so many inspirational thought leaders in one place. It gives me optimism that we can make a difference in the world.

The diversity of our clients’ interests – both personal and professional – across so many agenda topics show the breadth of what WEF covers and why it matters. Putting so many diverse constituents in one place allows debate, consensus building and partnerships formed to tackle crucial world issues. I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve learned with all of our clients and colleagues upon my return from Davos during a webinar taking place on Jan. 26 at 11 am ET. I hope you are able to join!