Davos: The Last Day

February 1, 2009
  • Aron Cramer portrait

    Aron Cramer

    President and CEO, BSR

Davos closes each year with a lunch at the Schatzalp Hotel, on the outdoor terrace overlooking an idyllic Alpine valley (and some very tempting ski runs). The view inspires tranquil optimism.

This year, the view from inside the Congress Centre was decidedly more mixed though, in sum, not entirely bleak.

The closing session was the backdrop for "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on CNN. French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde—who may combine elegance and command more than any public figure since John F. Kennedy—warned of the dangers of protectionism. Observers, from Lagarde to Oxford historian Timothy Garton Ash, see it happening now with the possibility of a vicious cycle of recriminations that could prevent a real recovery.

From the business sector, there were more hopeful signs. Uday Kotak of India's Kotak Mahindra Bank presented a picture of banking in his country, noting that—in contrast to the situation in the United States—his salary is reviewed by regulators. He said that there is a simple three-part formula for a healthy banking system: 1. adequate capitalization, 2. humility—not arrogance, and 3. transparency. Jeroen van de Veer of Shell called for more servant leadership on the part of business. He cautioned against over regulation but also dismissed a laissez-faire approach as equally unworkable in light of current circumstances.

From up on the mountain top lunch, at the hotel that was the backdrop for the movie version of Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, the week at Davos ended with some notes of optimism. Thinking about the entirety of the events, it is undeniable that sustainability, transparency, and values were more firmly a part of the debate than in any of the prior four Davos meetings I’ve attended. There is no illusion that business as usual will do—or will be accepted. The social contract is rapidly being rewritten in the form of stimulus packages being drafted from Washington to Beijing.

A few additional notes on international initiatives discussed and launched at Davos:

  • UN Global Compact Executive Director Georg Kell is pointing toward the 10th anniversary gathering in July 2010 and was here with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to meet with Compact signatories to discuss their forward strategy. He also noted the growing debate within the United Nations about whether to call a “Rio + 20” conference in 2012.
  • The WEF's Global Agenda Councils will likely refocus efforts to articulate a clear global agenda and road map to recovery, leading to the second meeting of the Councils this coming November in Dubai. (Note: I sit on the Council on biodiversity and ecosystems)
  • Erik Rasmussen is busy organizing the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen in May. This will likely be the major, public-business conclave on climate leading to the COP15 in Denmark in December. BSR will be there, presenting and supporting a strong business presence.
  • Nike is about to launch a fascinating open source “green exchange,” enabling collaborative development of sustainable products and services. Look for Best Buy and other companies to join the effort.

The world faces the need to restore employment, unlock a frozen and discredited financial system, ensure that national barriers don’t rise to choke off trade, and, not to mention, reach a deal on climate.

Davos is a swirl of talk and planning. The ultimate test of the WEF’s meeting is not what happens in Davos this January, but whether it helps to define and catalyze some of the actions needed to restart the economy—on a more sustainable path. Was this year’s Davos successful? Come back in January 2010; we’ll know a lot more then.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

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