Typically, at this time of year, you would have found me high up in the Swiss Alps surrounded by thousands of the world’s top leaders addressing the most pressing issues on the global agenda. But the pandemic has forced a transformation in the way we collaborate. The World Economic Forum (WEF), which normally meets in Davos, Switzerland, for its annual meeting, has gone virtual in 2021 with the “Davos Agenda.” Global leaders are convening this year to talk about “The Great Reset,” how global institutions emerge from the COVID crisis with economic and social systems for a more fair, sustainable and resilient future. It is an important topic—and no small challenge.
The global leaders who have spoken so far have quickly coalesced around two core themes: multilateralism and coordinated collaboration for economic and environmental solutions.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that “this is the hour of multilateralism” and that “we must avoid the building of blocs.” China’s President Xi was quite bold in his remarks, saying that the global outlook “remains uncertain” and that we “need to follow a path with governments of peaceful coexistence.” French President Macron envisioned building “a multilateral system that will allow a new consensus.” And in a surprise, unscheduled address, Russian President Putin warned that “a collapse of global development might cause a fight of all against all.”
In the breakout meetings and sidebar conversations—which are dominated by business leaders—climate change remains at the top of the agenda. But both business and government leaders recognize that they need both groups to act in order to make significant progress.
Leaders of AXA, Banco Santander, Takeda, BlackRock, Siemens, Mahindra Steel, Accenture and others have all placed climate change at the forefront of their agendas. BlackRock’s Larry Fink, presenting alongside the CEOs of Carlyle and BAML, delivered a powerful message by showing data around ESG returns and the progress those companies have made. (And if you have not already seen it, you should read his annual letter to CEOs, in which he emphasizes the importance of addressing this crisis.) Anand Mahindra (a participant in our sustainable leader research) perhaps said it best when he remarked, “It is not profit or sustainability, but rather profit through sustainability.”
Innovation, sustainability, radical change in supply chains and the growing vulnerability of many people in our world are the dominant themes in almost every meeting or discussion. How will the private and public sectors collaborate with NGOs to collectively make progress in the world? How can we collectively create change?
While none of us are physically together, we are not losing the ability to connect. Rather than the standard 20 minutes over coffee that happens in person, we are scheduling Zoom calls to compare notes and share reflections. Regardless of the specifics of each meeting or event—rapidly changing business models, the importance of hearing from executives with fresh perspectives, leaders driving innovation—we always return to the critical question of how to improve the way the world is led. Once again, I am reminded of the need for sustainable leadership – a new breed of leaders that are ready to address these big issues of our time – those that will champion “The Great Reset.” Read more about the characteristics and attributes that came out in our research titled: Leadership For the Decade of Action.