It is my custom after attending Davos to formulate my top 10 reflections. These are not necessarily the top issues discussed at Davos but rather some observations about the state of the world.
1. The Age of Wiki Revolutions
Not surprisingly, the historic events in Tunisia and Egypt captured the attention of many at Davos. The timing was impeccable, reminding some of the Davos conspiracy theory - that the world's leaders organize big events to time well with the Davos meeting.
Tunisia and Egypt are examples of a new species of revolution based on social media. Traditional revolutions have a leadership and are positioned to take power with popular support. The new "wiki revolutions" are so explosive and happen so fast, that there is no clear vanguard to take power, leaving a vacuum. The vacuums that result pose significant challenges for everyone who cares about moving from oppression, dictatorship and fundamentalism to openness, democracy and 21st century governments.
Appropriately, Tunisia's so-called Jasmine Revolution was hailed by many as a model of social and democratic revolution in the Arab world. "We are going to leverage social media to build a horizontal democracy rather than a vertical democracy," said Yassine Brahim, Tunisia's new minister of infrastructure and transport.
The new governor of Tunisia's central bank, Mustapha Kamel Nabli, went to Davos to reassure attendees and the international media that Tunisia was getting back to business as normal.
Nabli said Tunisia plans to move forward following the toppling of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. "The situation is stabilising and security is back. This means that democracy has taken root. We have come a long way. People had had such depressed feelings for so long that something had to break - which was fear of the regime. When it was removed everything happened very quickly."
"I would like to convey to investors that that the country has returned to business. Democracy is good for investment," Nabli said. Foreign companies will be "doing business in a much more favourable environment." He promised corruption would be replaced with transparency, and asked international investors not to flee the country or speculate in ways that would hurt the economy.
Yes, everyone was left wondering: what country is next? And how will each of these wiki revolutions play out?
2. Bifurcated Norms for the New Realities
The theme of Davos was "Shared Norms for the New Realities." It reflects what the forum organizers say is the top global issue: The world is increasingly complex and interconnected, and, at the same time, experiencing an erosion of common values and principles. This undermines the public's trust in leadership, which in turn threatens economic growth and political stability. In the words of the WEF's founder Klaus Schwab, we need to "concentrate on defining the new reality and discuss which shared norms are required for making global cooperation possible in this new age."
Compared to previous forum meetings, there is growing awareness by corporate executives that business can't succeed in a world that is failing. Environmental sessions at Davos used to be attended by environmentalists only. Now the participation is much broader. This year serious business leaders spoke convincingly of their responsibilities for helping develop a globally sustainable economy. A broad cross-section of business leaders spoke of the urgency of helping Africa.
I chaired two sessions. The first was "Rethinking our Institutions for the New Realities." The second was about how young people around the world share a positive new culture and set of norms, but were bumping up against "old models." At both sessions there was a rich, sometimes exhilarating discussion about the need for change.
But when it comes to norms being shared we've got a long way to go. In fact, a bifurcation is underway. Many CEOs, government leaders, economists and media still view the world in traditional ways. The biggest disconnect was about the state of the global economy. Many executives are quite comfortable with the status quo. They think the financial and economic crisis is over and that we're now coming out of a predictable and traditional business cycle. Implicit in this view is that there are no truly new realities, just variations on the age old business rhythms.
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