Sarita Nayyar, Managing Director, World Economic Forum
Following the global turmoil of COVID-19, the continuing far-reaching effects of the war in Ukraine, and growing concerns related to climate change, the next 12 months will be filled with unpredictability, further increasing the need for agile decision-making and response.
Business leaders are not only dealing with the day-to-day challenges and operational risks of their industries, but also dealing with the impact of several ongoing crises—tightening cost of living, global economic slowdown, soaring energy prices and climate disasters. These are title challenges only. Changing business models post-pandemic and shifting customer preferences and expectations have increased the need for strategy.
In the Forum, our work, as in our 53-year history, is about impact. We strive to effect change through everything we do to help improve the state of the world. This involved thousands of tangible projects and collaborations; breakthroughs by institutions such as GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; many historic initiatives including the Davos Declaration signed by Greece and Turkey in 1988 that brought both countries back from the brink of war .
“Influence” is a term that is often used. Is it possible to distill the essence of impact beyond dictionary definitions and firm theories such as business impact analysis? Looking at the forum’s work and success, I’d say it is, and there are a few overriding principles.
ambition to act
There have been at least two transformational changes over the past few years: We are suddenly faced with multiple challenges that cannot be deprioritized. They all demand our immediate, simultaneous attention. We have recognized that many of the challenges facing humanity are interconnected and therefore often global. At the Forum, our goals are ambitious and we translate them into action through our engagement with our stakeholders.
Our 2030 Water Team is a good example. Launched at the annual meeting in 2008, it has grown from an ambitious idea to help keep the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on track to an equally ambitious platform involving more than 1,000 partners and providing Global Water Projects provides close to $1 billion in financing. It is currently focusing on accelerator programs and has raised over $400 million for initiatives that benefit more than 7 million people.
An ambitious long-term vision provides a solid foundation for the business’ strategy during this difficult time. Volatility and constant crisis management are often distracting, making setting an ambitious goal somewhat of a guideline—the more ambitious, the greater the impact. This in turn will help us achieve major goals such as net zero and create a sustainable, inclusive economic model without getting lost in the turmoil in which we find ourselves.
To make a difference on a massive scale—and within the rapidly closing windows required—ambitious ideas and transformations are required.History rewards those who show moral courage, make big, hard decisions, and take radical paths
Actively listen to changemakers
What is clear is that only by pooling our resources, skills, knowledge and collective intelligence can we achieve change and impact at the scale required. The Forum has long recognized the power of bringing many disparate elements together, and this is reflected in its core multistakeholder philosophy.
Nowhere is this more evident than in events like the Annual Meeting, which use our convening power to engage a truly diverse group of people to discuss and share their thoughts on current issues. Whether they’re businessmen, youth activists, academics, tech entrepreneurs, artists, philanthropists or politicians, they share a desire to make a difference, often by finding elusive solutions to the biggest problems of our time.
The Annual Meeting was the source of many ideas and the focal point for subsequent action. The day-to-day work of the Forum centers around the creation and support of a number of high-level groups. We have hubs around the world in the form of regional and platform-specific hubs, as well as a global community of outstanding youth, a network of nearly 8,000 people. In addition, we have a dedicated innovation platform, UpLink, which provides a space to match SDG solutions with funding to make them a reality. Inventors and entrepreneurs publish their solutions to regularly set sustainability challenges, and businesses judge which are most feasible and support the best with funding and resources. The purpose of these actions is to express ideas that may not be heard before.
partnerships are crucial
With the magnitude and number of challenges facing today’s leaders, the cost of solutions to address them has risen. It’s not uncommon to read that trillions of dollars are needed to decarbonize the economy or fund climate change adaptation measures, and the longer we leave them, the higher the cost. Clearly, this level of funding is beyond the capacity of any single entity (state, corporate or otherwise).
Reflecting this in part, more and more organizations are integrating work with external partners into their day-to-day operations. While the very thought of partnering with another business may have sparked fears of internal fraud, today’s partnership model will ultimately prove to be a competitive advantage as we progress through this century.
Collaboration not only improves resource efficiency, but also builds capability, engagement and, crucially, trust. With this, it can become a permanent multiplier, creating models that can be replicated, thereby facilitating transformation.
The Forum has long believed that partnerships are the foundation of progress. Since our inception, we have worked extensively with business, government and civil society. The European Management Forum (our original name) was the first NGO to enter into a partnership with the China Economic Development Commission. Today, we often work with many different groups. We recently hosted 13 grant-funded platforms that are collaborating to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, each focusing on a different area, whether it be nature-based solutions or reducing carbon emissions. Their goal is to take collective action through partnerships for greater impact.