So what happened at Davos?
Ask me in 6 months.
The power of Davos is not what happens here, it’s what happens next.
In my 2023 experience at the World Economic Forum Annual Forum, I learned that, sadly, too many come to Davos for press, recognition through exposure to elites, and to influence policy makers on single-minded initiatives. This results in exterior perceptions of Davos as an opportunity to further entrench a Winner’s Take All mentality. But this narrative is an incomplete single story, and diminishes the potential of this gathering.
But what I saw in the meeting halls, cafes, and conference centers – as well as the icy cold streets in between – was something that gave me much more hope.
But first, some background on what happens at Davos…
There are three types of conversations that happen at Davos:
#1: The awkward conversations and failed sales pitches
This is where those looking for resources try to get support from those with lots of resources. This kind of transaction-based networking feels awkward for all involved, entrenches power dynamics, and propagates inequalities. Selling without understanding happens all the time here, and it’s not generative.
#2: The self-congratulating, nothing-new updates
This is when partners get together, design a panel or buzzworthy event, and use the attention to brag about the things they’ve done over the last year. They work hard to justify their past investments, and in so doing, further entrench their own beliefs about the efficacy of their intervention, regardless of its actual impact. They then try and convince others to join their initiative as is, and miss the opportunity to learn from other perspectives to drive innovation.
#3: Insightful conversations rooted in shared value that spark collaboration
These conversations are the most productive, but they require a lot of trust. In these moments, current and potential partners share what works, what doesn’t work, and also insights that can lead to new ideas and innovations. For these conversations to happen at Davos – especially because of the brevity of conversations – all parties need to show up with a genuine commitment to improving the state of the world, as well as curiosity to learn from the other amazing people here.
Beyond conversations, meaningful impact can also happen at Davos…
The most impactful connections lead not only to conversations, but to collaboration.
The people who get the most out of this event are those who approach Davos with the goal of doing more through partnerships.
Take Echoing Green, which brought together stakeholders from Microsoft, the World Economic Forum’s Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship, MovingWorlds, and impressive business leaders like Joseph Kenner from Greyston, Jean-Philippe Courtois from Microsoft, and Cheryl Dorsey from Echoing Green. In just one hour, immediate commitments were made to integrate racial equity into the Davos agenda and beyond. Intermediaries, including MovingWorlds, and other corporates around the table took the requests of entrepreneurs and grassroots leaders and committed to taking action.
At the launch event for Impact Force – a new accelerator to build a social enterprise ecosystem in Ukraine to support an equitable and sustainable recovery – immediate connections were made with social enterprises, funders, and capacity-building organizations. New corporates committed resources. Intermediaries offered connections. And governmental entities committed to new action steps to mobilize more resources to de-risk investments. MovingWorlds, via our TRANSFORM Support Hub, is a proud supporter.
In partnership with SAP, additional attention was brought to the TRANSFORM Support Hub, a global platform that is building a more sustainable and equitable economy by connecting employees within corporations to knowledge, partners, and guidance so that they can help their companies achieve ESG targets – while simultaneously offering on-going and on-demand support to social enterprises around the world to help them build operations and capabilities to bring their sustainable innovations into corporate value chains. To build more demand for social enterprises, Good Market, Buy Social USA, Catalyst2030, SAP, and more launched the new Catalyst Business Commitment.
And perhaps the fastest moving collaborations, not surprisingly, came via the social entrepreneurs present. I met other impressive social entrepreneurs, like Jo-Anne Chidley of RE which is moving industries away from single-use packaging, Vriko Yu of ArchiReed which is rebuilding coral reefs, and Rodrigo Oliveira of Green Mining which creates jobs while removing plastic from nature. Through the TRANSFORM Support Hub and its corporate partners, some of these entrepreneurs are already connecting with peers to share business insights, tap into social procurement opportunities, and connect with pro bono experts for specific support in scale-up challenges and improving operations.
Davos isn’t the end, it’s the beginning
The potential of Davos is that decision-makers from a wide variety of highly influential organizations are here and actively engaged. Conversations – when approached the right way, backed by data, and with humans and the planet at the center – can lead to collective action for change that moves us towards a more sustainable, equitable, and just economy.
Indeed, this is the power of Davos that not enough attendees take advantage of. It’s an opportunity for rapid learning amongst people and organizations that are open and eager to do more through partnership.
What I learned at Davos is that there is too much energy spent on trying to say the right thing to the right person at the right time, and not enough time spent on asking better questions, learning from others, and identifying immediate opportunities that advance the WEF’s mission: “improve the state of the world and promote entrepreneurship in the global public interest”.
As we leave Davos, we have to remember that it’s not the end, it’s the beginning. Now, it’s up to us to work together and turn inspiration into actions that better integrate social progress (addressing global inequalities, fighting for racial equity, ensuring planetary sustainability, and more) into more political, systemic, and business strategies. This, of course, can only be done via another buzzphrase at Davos: Radical Collaboration.
I’m obviously biased, but in our experience operating a platform that supports radical collaboration across sectors – including convening competing organizations as well as supporting organizations we also sometimes compete with – I can tell you this is possible. The beauty of platforms, like the TRANSFORM Support Hub, is that they create stakeholder-focused and transparent places where collaborators can convene and collaborate to live into the audacious vision of making a sustainable global economy that works for all of us. Join us.