Davos, development and delivering progress

Davos 2015_World Economic Forum, Flickr CCAs the money men and women of the world gather in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for annual The World Economic Forum (WEF), the challenges of addressing inequality, mitigating against climate change and living sustainably on this fragile planet are at the forefront of their minds. Actually, I lie. Those things do not appear to be as nearly front and centre as they should be.

Some terrifying survey results were released to coincide with the opening of Davos. On Monday Oxfam’s Wealth: having it all and wanting more study revealed that by next year 1% of the world’s population will own more wealth than the other 99%.

And yesterday, also as an opener to Davos, professional services group PricewaterhouseCoopers released the results of its global CEO survey of 1,322 business leaders across 77 countries. It transpires PwC did not even ask the top brass about global warming because only 10% registered concern the previous year.

A spokeswoman for PwC told the Guardian climate change did not make it into the top 19 risks CEOs were questioned about because they lacked interest in the issue. However, 78% of those questioned were concerned about over-regulation. I would hazard a guess on the two being linked.

But the business leaders surveyed are very concerned about reacting to uncertainty and disruption. Denise Ramos, Chief Executive Officer and President of ITT Corporation told PwC: “There’s a lot of volatility and change taking place, and what’s important … is that companies are structured in such a way that they can deal with any type of uncertainty or economic situation…”

In this year, of all years, we need our business and state leaders to come together to deliver in the face of an uncertain future. There is no more ‘run up to 2015’. In December 2, 196 countries will meet to sign a new climate change agreement in Paris and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are about to be superseded by the 17 proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as identified by the world’s governments via the United Nations Open Working Group. The agenda for the next 15 years is set and we need to collectively make better, faster progress.

The work of the STEPS Centre’s Professor Adrian Smith and his colleagues on our inclusive innovation projects have some very pertinent examples of how the redirection and redistribution of innovation efforts can both match the needs of the poor and the sustainability agenda. Prof. Smith wrote last week on different models for building pathways towards more socially just and environmentally sustainable societies.

Meanwhile connecting more firmly with the inclusive growth agenda, as extensively investigated and explained by Professor Mariana Mazzucato, of STEPS Centre co-host the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, might help achieve smarter, more sustainable growth, spreading not just the risks but also the benefits.

Alliances of states and businesses – such as those exemplified by the gathering at Davos this week – can help achieve the ‘green transformations’ needed to address the interlinked challenges of enduring poverty, social inequality and rapid environmental change. But, as discussed in a new STEPS Centre book, The Politics of Green Transformations, the elites can’t do it alone. Divergent notions of development and progress, as locally-defined by grassroots innovators and entrepreneurs, citizens and civil society, need to be appreciated and involved in prioritising problems and forming appropriate pathways to sustainability. Together, joining top-down and bottom-up, we can make progress.


Picture credit: World Economic Forum | Flickr CC