The 48th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum Meeting took place in Davos with the overall theme “Creating a shared future in a fractured world”. As we enjoy insights from Day Two of the Forum, here’s a recap of some of the critical issues raised and areas that will – hopefully – aid business owners in their decision making.
1. India poised to become the world’s fastest-growing economy. Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi’s opening plenary speech was the highlight of Day One as he talked about climate change, red tape and the importance of collaboration between countries as we move towards a #sharedfuture. He also announced India’s ambition to produce 175 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2022 and his intention to focus on reducing carbon emissions.
Modi’s speech was set against a backdrop of optimistic growth for the Indian economy.
In fact, a few days before the Forum, Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, remarked in his article that “There is no doubt that India is in transition and will soon become a force to be reckoned with.”
2. Technology: with promise comes peril. Some of the world’s top business leaders have voiced their concerns surrounding the challenges that social media, data privacy and automation bring. The exponential speed at which technology is advancing means economies, and not just businesses, must transform rapidly to keep up. Jack Ma, Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group Holding, said: “We are very lucky because the world is in a big transformation because of technology. This new technology will create a lot of successful people, interesting careers but honestly, every new technology will create social problems.” Meanwhile, on the topic of artificial intelligence, he remarked: “Human beings will compete with machines – on knowledge you don’t have a chance. The computer will always be smarter than you are; they never forget, they never get angry. But computers can never be as wise a man.”
3. Reinforcing trust. Over the last year, issues like cybersecurity, fake news and data privacy have come to the fore. In light of this, a term that came up throughout Day One was ‘trust’ with Chairman and CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff saying “Trust must be the highest value in your company or you’re in trouble”.
4. A focus on inclusiveness. Whether it was Cate Blanchett talking about the plight of refugees around the world or Shah Rukh Khan highlighting the social standing of women, inclusiveness has been an underlying theme at this year’s Forum. Across several sessions, leaders emphasised the importance of moving towards more inclusive economies. One of the most thought stimulating sessions came from activist Sinead Burke, who called for inclusivity and urged that everyone should be given a fair chance to develop their own identity.
5. Does e-commerce really go across borders? On one hand, we’ve been talking about e-commerce opening global opportunities, but on the other hand, a statistic emerging out of the Forum pointed out that ‘only 7% of e-commerce takes place across borders’.
Even as technology has levelled the playing field, it seems that SMEs aren’t able to fully capitalize on the potential of e-commerce.
Some of the barriers that small businesses still need to overcome to compete on a truly global scale with their larger counterparts include lack of infrastructure, logistics and awareness. Speaking on a panel during Day Two of the Forum, Jack Ma, Executive Chairman, Alibaba Group Holding, pointed out that the even with these barriers, e-commerce has found a way to grow rapidly and predicted a future not too far when things will be classified as ‘made on the internet’. Another interesting question that was addressed was: how can economies use technology-enabled trade to become more inclusive? Experts opined that governments would need to work closely with private sector institutions to empower entrepreneurs with the right tools to make this happen. Entrepreneurs hold the key to bridging the gap between marginalized communities and larger conglomerates.