Why WEF Matters: Four Perspectives

The kickoff to the fabled World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, takes place on Tuesday, and we are once again gearing up for a full week of important discussions on the biggest business, political, environmental and societal issues impacting the world today. I like to call it the “Davos marathon,” as it really is a nonstop week of inspiring conversation, interaction and education.

As exhausting as this marathon can be, it is a crucial moment in time for Ketchum and for our clients, and our primary goal is to bring back as many learnings as possible to help your businesses thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. We do this by posting thoughts on our blog, sharing real-time insights on our social channels, and “demystifying Davos” through our annual webinar (taking place this year on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 11:30 am ET – I hope you’ll join us!)

Everyone goes to Davos with different goals in mind. Above all, my primary goal is to spend valuable time with many of our clients from around the world. In the past, our clients have expressed their own opinions on why Davos matters, with a diverse agenda that includes addressing gender parity issues, contributing to discussions on how technology impacts inclusive growth, tackling personal security and privacy concerns, and having important discussions on human trafficking. This year I spoke to three other individuals – one from a corporate client, one from a nonprofit organization, and one from our parent company – to find out what they are most focused on as we approach the 2017 Annual Meeting. Here is what they said:

John Hewko, General Secretary of Rotary International

“Davos brings together global leaders at the intersection of commerce and cause, which is important to create a sustainable and inclusive global economy. For Rotary, this is the ideal venue to build support for our humanitarian causes, such as ending polio, promoting peace, or spreading inclusive economic growth. As a member-driven organization composed of business and professional leaders, we are acutely aware of the need to take action in cooperation with key representatives from all sectors. In a time of economic volatility, and tighter foreign aid budgets, we need to catalyze more collaboration to take on shared challenges and better serve our communities. The Forum is a place where we can actually do this, sometimes just from a few conversations with other attendees in the government, business, non-profit and academic sectors.

The events of the past few years have highlighted the urgent need to ensure that economic development and prosperity is inclusive of all members of our societies. So, I’ll be particularly interested in the Forum’s panels on ‘Investing in Peace’ and ‘Building New Alliances for Humanitarian Action.’ Conflict costs us $13.6 trillion a year, so it’s time to invest in peace, not as an abstract concept, but as a living, dynamic expression of human development. This means that we can actively pursue the optimal conditions for sustainable peace through the full spectrum of humanitarian activities, and we have a blueprint for action in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Mentoring a student or providing clean water is as important as signing a peace agreement. So this year, I will be seeking opportunities at Davos to develop strategies for improving economic and social conditions for the average citizen, marginalized populations and youth around the world.”

Serge Dumont, Vice Chairman, Omnicom Group

“Omnicom’s agencies work with companies in many different industries all over the world. We are in a much better position to provide strategic advice to clients on how to communicate effectively and grow their business when we ourselves possess a clear view of the world. The World Economic Forum offers an unfiltered experience aimed at acquiring a global point of view and a deeper understanding of the complex trends that are fundamentally reshaping our world, across industries and geographies. It is a chance to speak directly with people who are leading the way in different areas, including business, government, civil society – and to get their candid views on what’s affecting their customers, their citizens, and the lives of their people. In addition, many of our key clients are present in Davos. Spending quality time with them focusing on issues of mutual interest, while getting an unparalleled level of insight within a few short days, is truly invaluable.

This year, the World Economic Forum in Davos will take place against an extraordinary geo-political background: momentous events have marked the past few months around the world, in particular in Europe and the U.S. On a broader level, the world order is shifting away from the G7 industrialized countries, and we are all affected by the profound transformational changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This transition is marked by uncertainty, unpredictability and volatility, creating a unique set of challenges and opportunities. In addition, this year President Xi Jinping will be the first Chinese head of state to attend the Forum in Davos, along with a Chinese delegation that includes some of the most prominent names in business, academia, and the media. So in my view, the 2017 Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum is very timely, relevant and important. It is a chance to understand what some of the brightest minds from different countries are thinking about the dynamics currently affecting the world.

Perhaps an unforeseen effect is that thinking processes can actually slow down in Davos. Air Force pilots have something called the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop, which describes the decision cycle that your mind goes through under the highly stressful conditions of aerial combat. The concept has also been applied to business because it can help smaller companies take on more established competitors using agility, rather than brute strength. In a combat situation, this kind of rapid processing keeps you alive. But when you’re dealing with really big, complex problems that don’t result in life-or-death outcomes in the next five minutes – but might do so in the next five decades – you’ve got to use a different model. You want to slow down your thinking, suspend your snap judgments, look for alternatives, and even question your core beliefs. As E.M. Forster said, we have to see life steadily and see it whole. These days, that’s gotten harder to do. Sometimes you have to slow down the feedback loop in your brain. I think the conversations we have at the World Economic Forum help accomplish that somewhat counterintuitive, but nevertheless crucial goal.”

Joyce Russell, President of Adecco Staffing USA
“Some of the planet’s most important conversations happen at the World Economic Forum. There’s no other time or place with this level of access to meet and learn from some of the brightest and most influential thought leaders in the world. As the leading provider of workforce solutions, The Adecco Group is at the forefront of the fast-changing world of work and talent, and the global conference at Davos allows us to have a voice in powerful discussions that could change policies and lives.

For the fourth consecutive year, The Adecco Group, with our partners INSEAD and the Human Capital Leadership Institute, launched our Global Talent Competitiveness Index in Davos. The 2017 report, themed Talent and Technology, ranks 118 countries according to their ability to grow, attract and retain talent, and this year we announced our first-ever ranking of cities. As digitalization continues to impact our understanding of words like ‘employee’ and ‘career,’ we are proud to share compelling perspectives on how governments and business must act. By working together, we will respond to the challenges, unleash the power of work and boost prosperity.”

Hearing from our clients – and from our parent company – about why WEF matters to them helps to guide my focus for the Davos marathon, but more importantly, it reaffirms the importance of the WEF agenda and why we continue to invest in the experience. Crucial conversations that shape our world in the year ahead are taking place in Davos, and we all need to be a part of it. I’m eager to hear your thoughts on what you expect from the World Economic Forum in 2017 and what issues are important to you. Let the marathon begin!