At last week’s “Summer Davos,” the annual World Economic Forum meeting in China, talk about innovation was everywhere.
Not surprisingly, the sense of the meeting was that waiting for governments to set consistent rules and incentives for a low-carbon economy is a fool’s game. At last year’s event, talk was thick and furious about COP15 in Copenhagen, where Yvo de Boer, then the UN’s chief climate negotiator, was the star of the show at the Summer Davos. Now, there is slim hope that a deal will emerge this year, next year, or anytime soon.
This means companies have to get on with it, and at this “Annual Meeting of the New Champions,” featuring companies from emerging economies and high-tech start-ups, innovation is the name of the game.
This was on display in the session I moderated about cities and sustainability, “Rethinking Urbanization.” In fact, Hindustan Construction Company CEO Ajit Gulabchand is starting from scratch by building a completely new town in the hills three hours from Mumbai. His aim with the town, Lavasa, is to create a livable, sustainable city for about 300,000 residents (a small town by comparison to the mega-cities). The website for Lavasa Future Cities outlines an ambitious vision, stating that “Lavasa is a replicable model of the future Asian cities by bringing world-class standards to Indian urban life.”
What’s interesting is that this involves not only the built environment, but also a public-private governance model, with Cisco and Indian IT powerhouse Wipro also joining the project. On its face, this smacks of privatized justice and administration, which raises all sorts of questions. But if it enables progress and makes wise use of natural resources, then there is some value in the model.
So while we often think about innovation in terms of products, business process, or business models, here is a case of business innovation that is reshaping human habitats and governance, and it’s a great example of the experimentation that was on display at the Summer Davos. And as Hindustan makes clear, unless we find a way to create sustainable, healthy, and prosperous lives for the hundreds of millions of people moving to cities in the fast-growing economies of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, our collective progress will hit a major speed bump—or wall.