Davos Digest: Issue Three

Happy Friday! And boy do we need it after some despairing doomsday predictions from Davos yesterday where dire political and environmental news took a backseat to ominous forecasts in business and banking.

Over the course of this year’s summit, what started off as a general consensus from business leaders that economic growth is slowing seems to have snowballed into unanimous pessimism. According to CNBC, expert opinion is now split as to whether we could be heading into a fully blown US and even global recession.

As if to pre-empt desperate politicians’ pleas of a bailout in 2020, Christine Lagarde politely mentioned that “It would be very nice if the economies at large didn’t have to rely on the central banks yet again in order to resist the next shock.” It seems even the leaders of the free world sometimes need to deal with a passive-aggressive boss.

While this was being discussed on stage, the news that an opposition leader had stood in the streets of Caracas, Venezuela, and declared himself as the country’s interim president was being mulled over by Latin American representatives in and around the day’s planned events. A flurry of world powers, including the US and the UK, are now backing the aforementioned Juan Guaido as interim president while President Nicolas Maduro responded by giving US diplomats 72 hours to leave the country.

It wasn’t all bad news. As Oscar Wilde said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”. Amid the chaos on planet Earth, industry experts at the “entering a new space age” panel argued that space exploration requires close international cooperation, making it an ideal testing ground for a better way of doing politics.

 

 Relationship Status? 

  • It’s complicated…: In his outline of global risks, UN Secretary General António Guterres told delegates that “The relationship between the three most important powers – Russia, the United States and China – has never been as dysfunctional as it is today.” So that’s why none of their leaders bothered to show up this year.
  • Sign of the times: UK Chancellor Philip Hammond mysteriously pulled out of a panel on Europe yesterday, where he was due to speak alongside the Dutch and Polish Prime Ministers. We have no idea why, but probably to sip champagne with Liam Fox. Hammond, however, managed to make the CBI’s annual lunch, where he told business leaders that he was strongly opposed to a second Brexit referendum.

Looking ahead in politics… Today we’ll be rounding off with some of the world’s top academics asking “Is the West Paralyzed?” If the US government shutdown and Brexit gridlock is anything to go by, I think we may already know the answer.

 

Environmental contrasts

  • Don’t bottle it up, fellas: In a rare appearance together, the CEOs of PepsiCo and Coca Cola put their challenges aside to discuss the future of plastic. Despite being in part accountable for the obscene amounts of plastic waste in our natural environment, both companies highlighted they are making big strides to address the problem through innovation and behavior change.
  • The future of oil and gas: Geopolitical tensions in the Middle East is what’s keeping Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné up at night. Despite issues of supply and demand, not to mention Venezuela, causing the oil industry a headache, it is the fragile nature of the Saudi Arabia/Iraq/Iran bloc that Pouyanné feels will be the biggest risk to his business this year.

Looking ahead in business… It’s become á la mode for businesses to adopt an “agility first” model to deal with disruption. But what are the trade-offs and big bets business leaders are facing in the race for agility? A panel including Maurice Lévy of Publicis will discuss.

 

The societal implications of tech

  • Artificial intelligence as a right: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff warned that the next tech divide could be between those who have access to AI and those who don’t. Those who do will be smarter, healthier and richer. AI should therefore be available to everyone and become a new human right.
  • Genie in a bottle: Workday CEO Aneel Bhusri discussed how AI is creating a paradigm shift in the workplace. As the war for talent heats up, he notes that companies are using predictive analysis to look at top performers and the odds they may be looking for opportunities outside the company. No more mid-morning “dentist appointments” going under the radar, then.
  • Microsoft gets more ‘regulation’ than it bargained for: Satya Nadella has welcomed regulation of facial recognition technology. Privacy worries have increased calls for more oversight of the technology, to avoid “even more heavy-handed regulatory regimes” gaining power. That wasn’t Nadella’s only privacy issue of the day as news broke that Microsoft’s search engine, Bing, had been blocked temporarily by China’s internet regulator amid growing accusations of censorship.
  • We live in a world of connected ovens, but 795 million people do not have enough food to eat: SAP board member Adaire Fox Martin says that the pace of change is faster than ever, but will never be this slow again… Got it? The problem is not the speed of progress, but the fact that it is occurring unequally.

Looking ahead in tech… The Fourth Industrial Revolution is touted to unlock $3.7 trillion in value by 2025, but could it help reduce the vast inequalities of the digital age? We’ll find out in a session later today.

 

Bright futures for longstanding problems?

  • Incentivising the fight against AMR: Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is predicted to kill 10 million people annually by 2050. Taking a tough stance against lack of progress in the area, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the NHS will pay for antibiotics by value, rather than volume. The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said that companies are “ready and waiting” to accept the challenge.
  • Help for infants in Ghana: Approximately 1,000 children are born with sickle cell disease (SCD) in Africa every day, an estimated 50%-90% of whom will die before their fifth birthday. Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan and Head of Public Affairs Policy & Advocacy for North America, Petra Laux, launched a partnership with Ghana and the Ghana Sickle Cell Foundation to improve and extend the lives of Ghanaian SCD patients.
  • Addressing Alzheimer’s: Despite efforts towards progress, drug development for Alzheimer’s disease has hit a brick wall of late. Industry leaders from Johnson & Johnson and Biogen underscored the importance of early intervention. Alzheimer’s disease can affect the brain up to two decades before the first symptoms appear and they made a fervent global call to action.
  • 420: Amid increasing legalisation, cannabis prospectors have been gathering at a spot called Canada Cannabis House. Over-worked assistants and interns looking to unwind were likely shocked and disappointed in equal measure to find former White House Director of Communications and recent Big Brother contestant Anthony Scaramucci, interviewing former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, now chairman of medical marijuana company InterCure.

Looking ahead in health… Today, experts will scrutinize the future of cancer research, address the “what ifs” of genome sequencing, and ask whether the social determinants of health can be addressed before patients arrive at the hospital door.

 

Come back for our final Davos Digest this afternoon!