By Sarita Nayyar, Managing Director, World Economic Forum
Following the global upheaval of COVID-19, the continuing far-reaching effects of the war in Ukraine, and mounting climate-change related problems, the coming 12 months will be marked by unpredictability, further elevating the need for agile decision-making and responses.
Business leaders not only have to manage the day-to-day challenges and risks to operations in their industry, but also navigate the fall-out from several on-going crises – cost-of-living crunch, global economic slowdown, soaring energy prices and climate disasters. And these are just the headline challenges. Shifting business models post-pandemic, as well as changing customer preferences and expectations add to the strategic demands.
At the Forum, our work is, as it has been throughout our 53-year history, about impact. We strive to effect change to help improve the state of the world through all that we do. This has involved thousands of tangible projects and collaborations; breakthroughs that brought into being the likes of GAVI, the vaccine alliance; and many historic initiatives, including the Davos Declaration signed in 1988 by Greece and Turkey, which brought the two countries back from the brink of war.
“Impact” is a frequently-used term. Beyond dictionary definitions and corporate theories, like business impact analysis, is it possible to distil the essence of impact? Looking at the Forum’s work and successes, I would say that it is and that there are several overriding tenets.
Ambition to action
At least two transformational changes have occurred in the past few years: we suddenly face multiple challenges that can’t be deprioritized. They all require our immediate, simultaneous attention. And we have come to realize that many of the challenges humanity faces are interrelated, and as such, often global. At the Forum we are ambitious in our goals, which we convert into action through our work with stakeholders.
A strong example of this is our 2030 Water Resources Group. Launched at the Annual Meeting in 2008, it has grown from an ambitious idea to help keep the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on track to an equally ambitious platform involving more than 1,000 partners and facilitating almost $1 billion in financing for water programmes worldwide. Currently, it is concentrating its efforts on accelerator projects, facilitating more than $400 million in financing for schemes that will benefit more than 7 million people.
A long-term ambitious vision offers a strong foundation to a business’s strategy in these taxing times. Volatility and what can often feel like constant crisis management is distracting, which makes fixing on an ambitious goal something of a guiding principle – the greater the ambition, the greater the impact. This is turn will help get us to major targets like net zero and create a sustainable, inclusive economic model without losing our way in the midst of the turbulence in which we find ourselves.
To effect change on the mammoth scale – and in the rapidly closing window required – ambitious ideas and transformations are required. History will reward those who show moral courage, take big, difficult decisions and pursue the radical path
Actively hear the changemakers
It has also become evident that only by pooling our resources, skills, knowledge and collective intelligence can we effect change – and deliver impact – on the scale required. The Forum has long recognized the power of bringing many different elements together, reflected in its core multistakeholder philosophy.
Events like the Annual Meeting are the most obvious manifestation of this, using our convening power to attract a genuinely diverse group of people to discuss and share their ideas about current issues. Whether they are businesspeople, youth activists, academics, tech entrepreneurs, artists, philanthropists or politicians, all embrace the desire to change the situation for the better, often by seeking out the elusive solutions to the greatest problems of our times.
The Annual Meeting is the wellspring of many ideas, acting as a focal point from which action follows. The Forum’s daily work centres on the creation of, and support for, many high-level groups. We have hubs worldwide in the form of our regional and platform-specific centres, as well as a Global Shapers Communitya network in which almost 8,000 people are involved. Additionally, we have a dedicated innovation platform, UpLinkwhich provides a space designed to match solutions to the SDGs with the funds to make them a reality. Inventors and entrepreneurs post their solutions to regularly set sustainability challenges, with businesses judging which are the most viable, and backing the best ones with financing and resources. These actions are all designed to give a voice to ideas that might otherwise have gone unheard.
Partnership is vital
With the enormity of the size and number of challenges facing today’s leaders, the cost of solutions to address them has escalated. It is not uncommon to read that trillions of dollars are required to decarbonize the economy or fund climate change adaptation measures, which get more expensive the longer we leave them. Clearly this level of funding is beyond the capacity of any single entity – nation, company or otherwise.
In part reflecting this, increasing numbers of organizations are integrating work with external partners into their everyday operations. Although at one time the idea of working with another business might spark off fears of insider skulduggery, today’s partnership model will ultimately prove a competitive advantage as we progress through the century.
Partnering is not only more resource efficient, but it builds capacity, engagement and importantly trust. With this, it can be a multiplier for good, creating models that can be replicated, thereby fostering transformation.
The Forum has long held that partnership is fundamental to progress. Since our inception, we’ve worked extensively with business, government and civil society. The European Management Forum (our original name) was the first non-governmental institution to initiate a partnership with China’s economic development commissions. Today, we routinely partner with many diverse groups. Recently we’ve hosted 13 grant-funded platformswhich are working in partnership to accelerate progress towards the SDGs, each specializing in a different area, be it nature-based solutions or reducing carbon emissions. Their aim is that collective action through partnership will have greater impact.