Davos: big questions from top delegates to the World Economic Forum

How to ensure women’s economic inclusion, because economies will not thrive unless we do. This issue stretches all the way from the number of women in Davos and the glass ceiling in the developed world, to helping poor women in the developing world set up their own businesses and survive. (..) The World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of the money in their families. For men, that figure is more like 30% to 40%.

Davos: big questions from top delegates to the World Economic Forum

As the annual gathering opens Cherie Blair joins others in mapping out the tough challenges ahead for global wellbeing.


Cherie Blair

Cherie Blair is pushing for economic inclusion, saying men and women should work as equal partners to bring change. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian

Cherie Blair: founder, CB Foundation for Women

How to ensure women’s economic inclusion, because economies will not thrive unless we do.

This issue stretches all the way from the number of women in Davos and the glass ceiling in the developed world, to helping poor women in the developing world set up their own businesses and survive.

I don’t think the people who go to Davos deny that this is a major issue; many are really committed and understand that it is not tokenism. They read the same reports about the value of investing in women, in terms of education and employment, as I do.

The World Food Programme has found that when girls and women earn income, they reinvest 90% of the money in their families. For men, that figure is more like 30% to 40%.

I’m a great believer in the gender parity group at Davos: it is not about the exclusion of men, but men and women working together as equal partners to bring about change.

We have all heard the Chinese proverb about women holding up 50% of the sky, and we should act on it.

Bill Gates: co-chair, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

It is inevitable that the conversation at the World Economic Forum will focus on the challenges faced by the global economy. While it’s true these are difficult times, in several areas (fuelled by innovation) we’re seeing real progress (read more in my 2012 Annual Letter).

The most notable signs of success have been in improving global health and agriculture.

In both of these areas, we have an opportunity to continue helping the poorest people become more self-sufficient through smart investments.

So, amid the debate of the eurozone crisis, I will be asking tough questions about the one billion lives that hang in the balance if global leaders continue to slash international development budgets.

Are we ready to deny millions of children affordable, life-saving vaccines?

Will we no longer help poor farmers save their families and communities from starvation?

We cannot allow ourselves to do less. The fact is, we need to do even more. At Davos and throughout 2012, I hope we talk about how.

Barbara Stocking: chief executive, Oxfam

For me, meeting world leaders, economic thinkers and heads of the world’s biggest corporations means a fleeting chance to influence the path of global development. I will be pushing conversations towards targets for sustainable and fair patterns of consumption and production – suggesting that GDP growth is only one measure of human success.

Rushed encounters while stamping snow from your boots are where historic moves are made in Davos. And, a single dinner next to a head of state can open doors for Oxfam and start setting the tone for the meetings in the year ahead.

We are negotiating a difficult path for the successful future of humanity. The challenge for the 21st century is how to ensure all people live free of poverty and deprivation while staying within the natural boundaries of the planet.

Oxfam has long argued that the problems faced by the world’s poorest stem from our inability to share the planet’s resources fairly. The unpalatable truth for the western world is that there are no longer enough to go around – not if those in the developing world continue to consume them at current levels.

Lord Turner: chairman, Financial Services Authority

The global financial crisis, which broke in 2007-8, has had a more severe and lasting impact on economic growth than most experts assumed, once the initial shock subsided.

That impact has rightly produced a challenge to the overconfident intellectual assumptions of the pre-crisis era – assumptions never more prevalent than in some pre-crisis Davos meetings.

In response, we must ensure we have understood the fundamental causes of the crisis, and ask questions about the economic value of complex financial innovation, trading activity and short-term capital flows, and about the drivers of excessive debt.

We need to ask whether financial reforms have been radical enough, but also recognise that avoiding deflation may require careful coordination of appropriate fiscal, monetary and financial regulation policies.

But the crisis and its aftermath should also provoke wider questions about the model of global capitalism that has developed over the last 30 years, of which, many Davos attendees are beneficiaries. Why has it produced such rising inequality, and what can we do about it? And what policies and institutions of global governance are required to ensure that global capitalism helps, rather than hinders, the attainment of inherently global objectives, such as countering climate change?

SD Shibulal: chief executive, Infosys

The world as we know it is changing. The emerging future, and businesses, are being shaped by changing trends in technology, society and demographic profiles. Businesses need to adapt to this new reality and the changing consumer mind-set.

Consider this: the number of internet users in the world in 2010 was around two billion, up from about 360 million in 2000. That is an unprecedented growth of over 400%.

At the same time, the success or failure of products and services is decided even before they hit the street, thanks to online reviews posted and read by millions of users.

Take Trip Advisor, one of the world’s largest travel information sites, the content for which is created by its users in the form of travel reviews, opinions and discussion forums. It has more than 40 million unique monthly visitors, 20 million members, and around 40m reviews.

These astounding numbers, among many others, clearly indicate the undeniable phenomenon of the growing digital consumer. In a world where over half the urban population is below 25 years of age, these numbers indicate the emerging future that businesses of tomorrow must adapt to.

Pascal Lamy: director general, World Trade Organisation

First, do no harm. This central tenet of the hippocratic oath is as relevant to economic policy-makers as to physicians, particularly as the global economic picture grows more ominous.

Economists may debate the virtues and drawbacks of stimulus or austerity as the key to exiting the crisis, but they are united in the view that closing down trade would only make matters worse.

Shutting your market provokes other countries to respond, and the resulting protectionist domino effect leaves all countries worse off than before.

This was the case in the 1930s and is even more so today in an integrated global economy.

Participating in the global value chain requires competitive firms to keep costs low. Raising tariffs on imported inputs adds to finished goods’ costs, making them less attractive on the global market. To shoot at imports is to shoot oneself in the foot.

Thus far governments have been reasonably restrained in applying such measures, but the steady imposition of trade restrictions since the crisis began means that close to 2% of global imports are now affected.

Worryingly, new countries are joining the list of those imposing draconian barriers to trade. Trade offers us one of the most reliable routes out of this crisis; governments must not shut it down.

Helen Wong: CEO and president, HSBC China

The year of the dragon has just begun – the traditional symbol of power, happiness and good fortune. [China] will be my main subject for discussion in Davos, and I expect this year will be marked as much by caution as by continued economic expansion.

In the face of volatile market conditions it’s difficult to predict what the year will hold for the global economy, but there are three factors which will have a particular impact on China’s economy in 2012, and which will help us hit growth forecasts of 8.6%.

First, as fears of a serious economic slowdown in China subside, we could see monetary easing policies putting the focus back on growth.

Second, our cash-rich enterprises will further expand their operations and investments around the world, building on the huge progress already made over a decade of China’s more outward-looking policies.

Third, the process of internationalising China’s currency, the renminbi, will continue to gather pace and this will also be a big topic at Davos.

In a year that will be defined by China’s leadership transition, efforts will also be made to ensure economic stability, steering the economy towards balanced and sustainable development.

A beacon of hope for the global recovery, China’s economic strength will continue to shine through in 2012, just when the world needs it most.

Sir Martin Sorrell: chief executive, WPP Group

Jobs and growth. Everyone is worried about the scale of unemployment, particularly in the developed world. In the US there has been a little improvement but unemployment is still over 8%, which is historically very high.

In addition, the scale of youth unemployment. In Spain, it’s 20% and double that for young people. We know that someone unemployed at the start of their working life has their earning power through the rest of their life sharply reduced – so that’s a big issue.

This is what should be discussed. But what will no doubt be talked about is the eurozone crisis, Greek default, the implications of Greek default and its impact on Portugal, Ireland and Italy. What they won’t discuss is how the US deals with its deficit.

There may be more attention this year than last on issues like wealth inequality, which some are very concerned about, with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

But the big issue is long-term economic growth. It’s about how to make people feel good and optimistic when they are surrounded by cuts. We’ve got to give people a long-term vision – but we don’t have that as yet.

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