Record numbers of leaders from governments, businesses, and social organisations gathered last week in the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2023 World Economic Forum (WEF) conference. The theme of the event was “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”.

Here’s what we learned:

  1. Things are looking up, but we need to be careful.
    The economic outlook isn’t as bleak as expected, but caution and a focus on resilience are essential. With China re-opening from its ‘zero-Covid’ policy, and recession seemingly avoided in the US and EU, business leaders are cautiously optimistic about the future. Central banks, however, warn against moving too fast too soon, saying they will keep interests high to keep inflation in check.
  2. No business is an island.
    Not only are the world’s biggest issues global in nature — a global pandemic, our warming climate, the war in Ukraine disrupting fossil fuel supply chains — requiring global solutions, but also no one is immune to feeling their effects. Reiterating the importance of public-private partnerships, and stressing the need for supply-chain resilience amongst geopolitical turmoil, this year’s annual WEF meeting shows that companies cannot afford to stand alone in the face of pressing global environmental and social issues.
  3. Ukraine calls for help.
    In a virtual statement, President Zelensky expressed worries of “Ukraine fatigue” and called for increased artillery and economic support. The Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska, who attended the conference in person, urged attendees not to wait for the war to be over before helping rebuild the damage done, emphasising that the costs of a refugee crisis would be felt beyond the war-torn borders.
  4. Is the Net-Zero transition too fast?
    It’s become clear that a balance needs to be struck between meeting immediate needs and looking forward to a more sustainable future. Global leaders are recognising that efforts need to be made to ensure that cheap, equitable, and reliable access grows alongside the transition to a zero-carbon energy mix. Sceptics say this talk about alleviating poverty and climate justice is undercut by the chemtrails of the private-jets that leaders flew in on, but given the need for global action, many are glad that key decision-makers are meeting at all.
  5. There are bumps on the road towards true international collaboration.
    Talks took a distinct nation vs. nation turn at this year’s WEF conference, creating fears that the ‘big picture’ was being lost. Europe drew criticism for focusing on the wrong enemy as it expressed fear that the US’ $369 billion climate plan would see an exodus of European green-tech businesses. Reimaginings of globalisation were dominated by talks of subsidies, which for some, create a ‘rich-country game’ that excludes countries without the resources to compete. And talk of ‘friendshoring’ — trade with like-minded countries — caused concern that historically underserved nations would continue to be sidelined.

What does this mean for you?

  1. No company is immune to environmental and social issues.
    From geopolitical disruption to supply chains to a warming climate, the impacts of ESG issues are felt on a global scale.
  2. The time for action is now.
    Countries and companies alike need to start planning for the future, establishing risk-resilient structures that will enable them to weather unpredictable changes and ensure accessible and affordable solutions for all.
  3. Collaboration is key.
    Meaningful goals, honest reporting, and solid accountability structures are absolutely critical. If Davos 2023 has taught us anything, it is the importance of working together — business leaders, consumers and wider society — to create meaningful change.