What makes Davos exceptionally different from all ski towns of the world? Well, it hosts one of the biggest and important conferences in the world where the who’s who of the world is present. I had the chance to be at Davos for the World Economic Forum (WEF), Annual Meeting 2016. I have been to many conferences and have heard about copycat conferences which aim to be like this one. But Davos is special. Professor Klaus Schwab formed WEF as a private-public partnership so that decision makers can discuss how the world can become a better place. This year, I am told one of the biggest delegations ever attended with more government officials than ever. It was really a sight to see a small town transform itself to host over and welcome over 10,000 people.
For marketers like myself Davos is a big brand factory. Because it gets as much publicity as it does, it becomes important for all marketers to make their presence felt there. Be it private receptions or panel discussions, branding is omnipresent in Davos. Subtle and direct messages shoot at you even if you are not noticing – even countries don’t miss this chance to invite people with their tourism ads. It is amazing to see a small town welcome so many outsiders for a week with open arms. Additional security is called in, transportation is changed with new routes charted out and the place is abuzz with journalists trying to catch the big news.
The theme this year was the Fourth Industrial Revolution – an apt one considering the changes that we are facing economically, socially, technologically and politically. A lot of stress on Artificial Intelligence and the overall consensus the same in all discussions – it doesn’t have to be either/or. Man and machine can co-exist but there will be a transition in the kind of jobs and policies once the markets are flooded with physical machines to do jobs that we did once. Wipro’s panel discussion on the Man V. Machine theme captured these sentiments well with T K Kurien, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, David Cheesewright, Tim Brown and Eric Brynjolfsson on the panel and Ilha R. Nourbaksh setting context. China’s slowing economy and oil prices were two other hot topics. India made it presence felt but not sure if there was as much excitement as there was a few years back when we were growing at 8% year on year. There is a lot more that was discussed and debated about. So here are my top 5 observations that I take away from Davos.
- We have to make technology work for us. The digital revolution has begun and how – there is no opting out. Digitize or perish – this holds good even for countries. With digitization trust is what will keep companies and economies going.
- Humans will not be overtaken by machines, at-least not in the next decade. The transition will be tough especially for the middle class where jobs which can be automated will be. But there will be new jobs created which will require creativity and judgement and cannot be done by machines yet. Policies will have to change to keep this transition in mind.
- The world needs and has to create major reforms in becoming sustainable. The pace of growth and depletion of natural resources are not mutually exclusive. But sustainability is more than just recycling, it’s about making the economy more circular. Climate change discussions will become an outcome of sustainability reforms.
- Governments and policy makers really need to get creative and adapt to the metamorphosis. Economical situations across the world, terrorism, dipping oil prices and changing technology is creating a sense of displacement which needs to be address quickly.
- Gender diversity remained a key topic as in the past with a severe under-representation of women in Davos. Out of 2,500 odd official delegates, only 8% were women. Public education and skills were two other areas on which there were considerable discussions and push.
Other than the freezing cold, I am glad that I could be a part of history in the making – I hope some of these agendas come to fruit and truly make a difference in improving the world. Looking forward to the snow and cold next year around!