Let’s stay in faith to create a shared future in a fractured world – My experience #WEF 2018 @Davos-Klosters

Following my lecture at MiP on the theme of “China and the World”, the week after, as my second time, I joined World Economic Forum at DAVOS (from Jan. 23 to Jan. 26). This year’s gathering was a bit different, simply put: divergently but also convergently. – writes Prof  Ying Zhang, Vice Dean and Professor @ Rotterdam School of Managment

Themed as Shared Future in a Fractured World, with politicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and academics, artists, and many others, many medias have claimed that the theme of this year is very much in accordance with Chinese President Xi’s speech last year at WEF DAVOS on the theme of “Jointly Shoulder Our Responsibility in Our Time, and Promoting Global Growth”. To address it from my angle, I would say that it is actually in line with what has been happening and what the world phenomena has been evolved.

Flooded by world elites, politicians, business leaders, and others joining WEF, it is not surprising that this year’s conference being marked significantly was also due to its largest collection (so far) of world level entrepreneurs. With the last shot of surprise that the America President Mr. Trump coming to visit, this year’s conference has shown much of the “interesting” and “challenging”.

The Snow Storm in Switzerland during WEF 2018 did not bring down the “heat wave” of discussions at Davos and the enthusiasm from business leaders. Technology, entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainability, as positive force, along with poverty, inequality, unemployment, have been the key words discussed from one session to another session.

With the largest number of world leaders presenting at Davos in Jan. 2018, this year’s WEF has completely shown how much each country’s leader still likes to present their own agenda, with their own conceptual model of the sharing future and sustained development (but not sustainability). Divergent themes to reflect poverty, inequality, geo-economic-politic tension / conflicts had not created much consensus at geo-politic level of the shared future.

This year, the number of Chinese delegates and China related sessions had climbed up dramatically, though the largest portion of participants were still from United States. Disregarding the nationality, the most discussed, aside the not-bad performed world economic growth last year, was the mentality to embrace the fast transformation due to technologies and its derived risks to unemployment. Apparently, different countries (major ones), at an execution level, liked to pick up the traditional economic-growth model to deal with unemployment and economic slack, but not much touched the fundamental base to create more jobs for more demand derived from new technologies.

USA, as all known, under the Trump Administration, is “still confidently” walking on the path to “get more jobs” by “cutting taxes”, “bringing manufacturing back to USA”, and “building walls” (immigration and international trade) etc. (question would be: how long will such solution be able to bring a country a long term wellness to their populations? and is that the way to bring in the true wellness?). As IMF has indicated, it (the solutions the Trump Administration has picked up), statistically, indeed brings in more jobs and pushed American economy up a bit currently, but the risk from such in a long run is there. Yes, it is something all known theoretically and practically!

(@WEF: Strategic Outlook: United States)

Trump’s agenda at Davos has proved his administration’s focus, where he was interested in is “convincing or pushing” those top European multinationals to (continue) invest in USA (seemingly in whatever manner) and create MORE JOBS (in whatever “legal” format). For someone / country who focus on the index of such, quantity of jobs and unemployment, certainly, matters! and of course will overrule the quality of jobs and necessity of jobs, regardless considering to take an economy into a sustainability-oriented path in terms of three pillars (social, economic, and environmental). And we all know, it is not only happening in USA, many others are the same!

(@WEF Special Address by Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America)

However, it might be a slightly different for a list of countries (in terms of opportunity) that are in the transition from quantity-orientation to quality-orientation (by which they can take late-comer advantages in technology and the lessons of growth from other countries). Theoretically, two wings can be used: applying technology/innovation and the targeting the goal of equality and sustainability (However, I have to clarify here, most of the countries have a very narrow defined understanding on equality and sustainability). To reach equality and sustainability, in my view, if without disrupting the current measuring and evaluation system serving for the current economic / power game, equality as of not only being equal (social and economic) but also of being singular as it should be will be a joke. The good thing is, the disruption has been here, and the consequence could be, without itself being disrupted, the system will be disrupted by on-going technology and young generation of entrepreneurs’ bottom-up endeavour. Therefore, following what has been discussed before, divergency and its attached conflicts are not scary, if we shall understand and follow their cause-effect bond well, they can become a positive force to disrupt the current fractured world and bring us to a shared future.

Taking a few other examples. This year, in the most sessions, economically or politically, China is an unavoidable topic, due to China’s position in the world and the “uncertainty” (in the eyes of others) to deal with. Regardless of the exiting positive or negative views to China’s recent performance, the impact of China’s rising, featured by China’s on-going cross-continent projects, for example Belt Road Initiative, and its plan in transiting China to a high-quality development nation (emphasised by the plans from 19th CPC Congress and the plan of Made in China 2025), has impressed the audience as to China’s long-term determination to embrace sustainability.

(@WEF, Session of “the Belt and Road Impact”)

Despite of all optimistic signs, some comments still need to be added: to what extent will China’s plan matters others in the global map, in terms of equal and mutual understanding each other and jointly working on a shared future for shared benefits and shared prosperity? To what extent should China protect their own territory (economic) and be understood by others? These might be few of the biggest challenges and also the motivations for China to upgrade into a New-World-Ordered Global Leader, not only as an (economic) diffusion giver but also a sustainability diffusion creator and giver. This is what I have been always interested to discuss in the class with my students about the paradox of being independent and being dependently independent in the global landscape. At least, taking China’s path as an example (with so many lessons to be learned), China’s development plan and execution so far have effectively touched the nerve of the new world concerns and presented a reasonable proposal for the future world order. At least the world has witnessed China has started to seriously act (1) to fight against pollution and promote sustainability, (2) to control and resolve the major risks (mostly financial), and (3) to lift more people (the last small portion of Chinese population) from poverty.

I have seen, at WEF, China’s development lessons have influence to many others.

(1) developing ones, such as Indonesia, Vietnam, and Pakistan, etc. as fast growing countries, have more or less, taken China as their role model.

 

 

 

@WEF Indonesian Session. with Swiss Asian Chamber of Commerce and General Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan)

@ Pakistan WEF gathering, with Ikram Sehgal and his new book “Escape from Oblivion“)

(2) developed countries have been trying to learn Chinese entrepreneurial models, so as to scale up the application of technologies and to resolve the social-economic tensions locally and globally (note: if interstated, pls refer to our HBS Case Ant Financial);

 

 

(@WEF Jack Ma speaks at E-Commerce is the Future)

(3) developed countries started to re-view China and learned from Chinese strategy such as heavily-focused investment in education, technology and research, in order to pump up local entrepreneurs and attract global talents who are dealing with the leading technologies.

(@WEF, Special Address by Emmanuel Macron, President of France)

With regard to the changes, WEF this year shows an interesting phenomena. While politicians were discussing at the global conflicts and issues in their divergent agendas, start-ups and entrepreneurs showed much more mutual understanding and consensus in building the future integrated world, with action from O2O to OMO (onlie merging off-line). That’s the thing really interested to me and allowed me to confidently propose (as mentioned above) that the future integration and joint prosperity will be most probably achieved by our young generation of entrepreneurs and people who dare to disrupt the old system, rather than via our governments and institutionsWith discussing with those entrepreneurs, I learned how much important life-long education meant to them; and this education means not only the formal school education, but also the experience with people from everywhere active in the real entrepreneurial arena.

(@WEF, Kai-Fu LEE speaking on Entrepreneurship development in China)

To many of them who grew as engineers, their expectation to business education locked me to re-think about how the business education has been and should lead the future society.

(@ MIT Reception with David Author and Carine de Meyere)

Among many higher education related sessions, such as MIT sessions, the first Davos Business School Deans Meeting, organised by AMBA and Corporate KnightsPRME, opened by Ms. Lisa Kingo from United Nations Global Compact. might be one of the signatures, with its tone to discuss how to boost the future business education and embed UN’s 17 goals into schools’ development. Participants include Asian schools, European schools, and schools from other continents (40 schools).

(@Davos Business School Deans Meeting)

(@Davos Business School Deans Meeting)

(@Davos Business School Deans Meeting)

Difficulties and challenges dominated the major agenda. With inputs from education institution such as RSM, corporates and professionals, this meeting earned much insights. As to my opinion (the details can be referred to my article here), business education, has been far more backward, as its supposed role to lead in the business world. Three reasons: (1) the currently business education system is not not staying on the same trajectory of the current generation of industrial revolutionary, nor to be able to catch up the current social-economic revolutionary towards the new world order, which calls for ” inter-cross-disciplinary” trained faculties as input to the education and entrepreneurs with “slash capability” as output ; (2) the current system has not built the concept of business ethics into each section of the education, administration, and evaluation. Adding a program or course associated with business ethics in the curriculum would not be able to solve the fundamental problem and reach UN 17 SDG; (3) the output of business education (in terms of graduates), even including business education itself, are still mainly driven by economic and financial performance (of the education output) (which might be passively forced by the current economic system that was mentioned before), rather than by hybrid-model (social-and-economic value added model — hybrid model) (this might be another argument for why Chinese new generation of entrepreneurship can be successful in scaling up via new technology —with social-value orientation as the first and hybrid business model as the second) (note: if interstated, pls refer to our HBS Case Ant Financial).

Davos was very cold, with the snow storm attacking WEF, but turned to present blue sky and beautiful view when WEF was closed. The whole conference had seemingly kicked out the snow storm and left the special beauty to Davos-Klosters. To close my writing here, as one of the educators dedicated to the higher-education sector, I believe, in order to reach the shared future via the current fractured world, the breakthrough can only be effective via education revolutionary. To use what I stressed on my TEDxTalk, all the problems come from education, and all the solutions can only be from education.

(@the Beauty of Davos-Klosters after WEF 2018)

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