For elites? yes ostentatious? yes But also effective.
Ana Lopesa Portuguese-Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist, was visiting the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2015 when something unexpected happened.
“I was actually there with my husband,” she said Don Tapscott, the well-known Canadian author, businessman and blockchain pioneer who was the official host. “But spouses have access to almost all events, it’s not like we get sent to basket weaving lessons or go out to spas.”
For Ms Lopes – former president of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation in Toronto – that access led her to a dinner with a small group of experts in global mental health problems, one of her main philanthropic passions. Ms. Lopes was introduced to a young researcher who had recently developed a smartphone app to help patients access healthcare professionals and manage their often complex treatment regiments.
“Back then, we didn’t really allow adolescent patients to access phones,” he said of mental health services. “They were seen as disruptive.” But Ms. Lopes was impressed with the technology and recognized its potential to digitize treatment protocols and improve patient outcomes.
“I reported the research to our team in Toronto,” he said. Within a few years, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health developed its own patient care app modeled on the one Ms. Lopes originally encountered in Davos.
“It really presented us with a new world of possibilities,” said Ms. Lopes. “It was a big step in empowering patients to manage their disease and care.”
As the global elite gathers for the first real-life release of the World Economic Forum in over two years, Davos will once again have to face both praise for its far-reaching impact and claims that it’s little more than a block of Alpine party for politicians and plutocrats. But for people like Ms. Lopes – academics, philanthropists, leaders of non-governmental organizations and policymakers – Davos is the rare forum whose critical mass of intellectual decision makers offers unrivaled opportunities to create change and get things done.
“Davos offers a level of closeness to like-minded thinkers that is truly unmatched,” said Ms. Lopes, who intentionally seeks health-focused panels and events there. “You know who the people are, why they are there and how to find them, and that makes conversations not only easy, but extremely powerful and effective.”
For the veteran Davos participant Jen Vini – former vice president of private wealth management at Fidelity and author of the financial approach and forthcoming book, “Invisible Wealth” – those conversations form the basis of what she calls “relationship capital.” And Davos is the capital of relational capital, which Mrs. Wines defines as “a super intangible resource that is the basis of all progress”. It is the value derived from intentional conversation and connection that creates the anchoring of everything that happens in Davos.
For Ms. Wines, Davos has historically been a place to identify potential philanthropic efforts for implementation and activation at home. More recently, she helped establish 100women @ Davosa group of CEOs, leaders and “change makers” who are leveraging the long-term opportunities and relationship capital established in the forum to give women global visibility and decision-making powers.
Either way, Davos’ results may not be immediately noticeable and take time to develop. “It can take some time to remove the layers and maximize the opportunities that exist in Davos,” said Ms Wines. “But the people you meet there really become part of your ecosystem.”
This was the case with the New Development Bank, which was established by the BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – to make the best use of their economic resources for large-scale infrastructure and sustainable development projects. Although officially launched in 2015, the bank was initially conceived in Davos in 2011 by its initiators Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Prize winner and former chief economist at the World Bank; Lord Nicholas Stern, a professor at the London School of Economics (and another former World Bank chief economist); and former Ethiopian President and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
The trio, Stern said, had previously collaborated on a number of global development issues and were frustrated “by the very backward system that saw savings from poor countries flow into rich countries.”
Working together, they came up with a proposal to establish a new bank focused on emerging markets that would directly benefit the developing world. Although the first working sessions predate the World Economic Forum, “it was in Davos that we really decided to do this,” said Mr. Stern of the plan’s rapid evolution from concept to reality at the 2011 event.
Mr. Stern admits that Davos may seem like a place where pursuing profit and concluding deals with the private sector may seem paramount. But Davos also possesses an underlying altruism in which social endeavors like the New Development Bank have the best chance of advancement.
“We used our Davos contacts and international contacts to give our idea the level of oxygen it needed,” continued Mr. Stern. “In Davos you can make key decisions in 24-48 hours; everything in Davos can move very, very quickly ”. Four years later, at an official BRICS summit in Shanghai, the bank made its long-awaited debut.
The New Development Bank is one of many large-scale global initiatives debuting in Davos, maximizing its power to immediately communicate the causes to crucial stakeholders and end users around the world. Another is Gavi, the Vaccine Alliancelaunched in the forum in 2000.
Similar in the mission of the World Health Organization, Gavi is a far-reaching partnership between vaccine manufacturers, governments, donor agencies, philanthropists and researchers to develop and implement large-scale immunization and vaccination schemes in developing countries. With all these partners already present in Davos, the launch of Gavi made immediate sense both logistically and logically.
Since its founding, “Gavi has protected more than 900 million children, preventing over 15 million future deaths,” he said. Dr Seth Berkley, the CEO of Gavi in an email. In the years following Gavi’s initial launch, Davos also served as the backdrop for further Gavi-related milestones, including the establishment of Covax, a worldwide initiative to provide equal access to Covid-19 vaccines, which Dr. Berkeley said it was designed in Davos in 2020.
The urge to “do good” may disprove Davos’ public image, but it can encourage the kind of radical thinking that can even challenge the very idea of wealth. Get the organization Patriotic millionairesa group of wealthy people trying to reduce economic inequality.
Earlier this year, in tandem with January’s smaller “virtual Davos”, the organization issued a letter signed by more than 100 global millionaires and billionaires. asking the super rich to pay more taxes.
Patriotic Millionaires, explained its international director, Rebecca Gowland, seeks to ensure that wealth is taxed more fairly around the world so that all countries develop truly fair tax systems.
“We want to devise global minimum standards for taxing wealth just like we do for corporations,” explained Ms. Gowland, whose organization includes heiress Abigail Disney, an outspoken critic of extreme wealth accumulation.
While many Davos attendees may have opposed the organization’s “tax the rich” belief, Ms. Gowland said the launch at the World Economic Forum was a deliberate, if not obvious, choice.
“Rich people at the highest levels are typically quite isolated, so the opportunities to interact with them are very limited,” he said. “But we knew there was a community of other wealthy people out there – and these were the people we wanted to target.”
Since the Davos call to action 2022 – which built a similar appeal during Davos in 2020 – Ms Gowland said the membership of the Patriotic Millionaires has expanded. There are over 200 members in the United States and a growing base in Great Britain. and around the world, which you attributed, in part, to the “Davos network”. Most importantly, while global tax reform remains a long-term perspective, the partnership with Davos “brings an agenda into the future and keeps it topical,” said Ms Gowland.
Ultimately, as Davos observers like Mrs Wines and Mrs Gowland suggest, the World Economic Forum offers the greatest opportunity for organizations and initiatives with big ideas whose impact will be felt in the decades to come.
It’s not that “Davos men” and “Davos women” lack short-term processing skills. Rather, no global gathering can compete with Davos for the sheer concentration of influential and exceptionally connected intermediaries with the ability to transform “eureka” moments into tangible, actionable and long-term policies that truly affect everyday life.
“Davos is probably the most interesting global institution in the world,” said Canadian author, entrepreneur and blockchain pioneer Tapscott, husband of Ms. Lopes. He said the forum was “way ahead of its time” when it came to raising cryptocurrency issues. “Davos represents the vanguard of a fundamentally new paradigm for how we approach global problems.”
Mr. Tapscott, the co-founder and executive president of the Blockchain Research Institute, witnessed this paradigm shift firsthand. In 2020 you were part of a working group of the World Economic Forum which launched the “Principles of the Presidium“, which is more commonly described as the” Blockchain Bill of Rights “.
The Principles, Tapscott said, began as a working group in Davos and evolved into a call to action aimed at standardizing safeguards for corporate and individual blockchain users.
“Davos was where people from all corners of the world came together to draft and reformulate and discuss the language of the bill and finally publish it,” said Tapscott. “Because Davos is all about multi-stakeholder collaboration.”
“For sure, there are a lot of rich and famous people there,” continued Tapscott, “but what actually happens in Davos can be very different from what many people imagine.”