Don’t Talk to Strangers; Let’s Talk Davos
Last week, the World Economic Forum made its post-pandemic comeback with the typically snowy January streets of the Swiss town being replaced with May thunder showers and a noticeable lack of ski gear. To anyone who’s walked these streets before, a few themes stood out along the promenade as emerging (but not unexpected) focus topics for this year, ranging from crypto to climate change to Ukraine, adding a somber tone to the week.
Davos generally thrives on promoting and rejoicing in globalization and all the opportunities that come with it; however, in the wake of global supply chain disruptions, food shortages, and energy price hikes the week felt more like a giant showcase of all the ways in which globalization is currently failing. These interwoven crises of energy, food, inflation, and climate made for a fairly gloomy outlook from those political and financial leaders asked to provide an economic forecast for the months to come.
Narrowing my own focus to the “climate” part of the conference, however, made for some interesting, cautiously optimistic discoveries. Goals House, the Davos home for all things Sustainable Development Goals-related, played host to sessions which convened both White Badge holders (i.e. the important people) and other badge holders (i.e. the rest of us) on topics ranging from food security to the climate financing gap, to the response to the humanitarian crisis of war. Being privy to some of these exchanges between corporate leaders, policy makers, non-profits, and (to a noticeably lesser extent) private capital allocators gave me some reasons to trust that Davos 2022 wasn’t wholly a virtue-signaling bonanza of the rich and powerful. My main observation from the few sessions I joined was that companies and governments alike are deeply aware of the existential threat of climate change, as well as the materiality of the climate topic to the other immediate shocks of supply chain chaos and geopolitical instability. This was a welcome surprise, given my normally skeptical view of corporations’ seriousness surrounding these topics. That being said, it was also clear to me that many of these entities don’t know how to mitigate or address this problem alone, leading to my second main observation: the role of mission-driven investors in partnership with impact-focused, sector-expert asset managers is a piece of the sustainable transition puzzle that isn’t yet fully acknowledged or realized by the likes of governments and large corporate actors.
Governments providing supportive regulatory environments, combined with markets created by corporate buyers, supported by capital sourced through intentional fund managers and financiers are among the types of solutions we look for daily at FWP. So, in the collaborative spirit of Goals House, the World Economic Forum overall and Sustainable Development Goal 17 (“Partnerships for the Goals”), it seems it that tackling and finding opportunity in this multitude of crises would be well served by conversations between stakeholders who don’t normally talk to each other.
Hayley Mole, Vice President
One important moment in Davos that felt like it had some meaning to it came in the form of the announcement about the expansion of the First Movers Coalition (FMC). FMC is a coalition of companies using their purchasing power to ignite early markets for innovative clean technologies, across 8 hard-to-abate sectors that are responsible for 30% of global emissions. This initiative, driven by the likes of Bill Gates and John Kerry, is an example of public private partnerships’ potential and gives some credence to the need for bespoke financing for the green transition.
While most of the themes front and center at the Forum this year were pretty much exactly what we expected to see, one country had an unmissably strong presence along the promenade: India. With five separate individual state-focused pavilions and a government delegation in attendance of over 100 people, India was at Davos to show that all these macro topics under discussion are felt keenly by the country — a major global economic player, the second largest global population, and a part of the world that has just experienced weeks of unlivable heat waves. India’s presence at the WEF this year had a proactive tone, however, giving the distinct impression that playing the victim and waiting for help to arrive is not on the country’s agenda. Food for thought for a later FWP newsletter…
Having been lucky enough to sit next to Adam Grant at dinner last week (not-so-humble brag), Think Again was top of my reading list post-WEF. In homage to this blog post’s implication that we need to rethink the way we do things and become better at unlearning and relearning, Think Again offers an optimistic take on how we can use what we don’t know to our advantage — and for the greater good.
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