It’s been a couple of weeks since I returned from the World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland. I generally try to share my reflections immediately, but I needed to shake off a cold and allow time to get some perspective. It was a frenzied week – the meeting is a whirlwind of presentations, networking events, working groups, and other opportunities to learn from fascinating, intelligent, and passionate individuals from business, government, and civil society. And the normally busy week was all the more notable against the watershed geopolitical events we’ve seen this past year.
This year’s theme was aptly “Responsive and Responsible Leadership.” In any year, it’s a good question – how do leaders chart a course that reflects the needs and aspirations of all the world’s communities? But against the backdrop of Brexit, the unexpected election results in the United States, surging populism and the rise of a multi-polar world, the international system that grew out of World War II seems shaky. The underlying uncertainty was palpable. And whether you’ve welcomed the changes or railed against them, the ambiguity surrounding our shared path forward has made world leaders in every sector nervous.
I had three initial takeaways from WEF:
- We need to acknowledge that there is real uncertainty in the international system, simultaneously fueled by political changes and the coming disruption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Both, and perhaps other influences, will change the way we interact with each other and the world. We will have to find a new normal.
- Amid this ambiguity, underserved communities continue to suffer disproportionately. And if history is our guide, those disparities will worsen before they improve. Humanitarians and conservationists must continue with the critical work of protecting and empowering, even as an uncertain world pushes us to retreat, minimize risks, and conserve resources. This is no time to wave a surrender flag, because, if anything, more demands will be placed on us.
- Our best and only response is to establish more effective partnerships with others who are equally committed to addressing the needs of the underserved and the vulnerable.
It was a sobering week, but not a worrying one. I was struck by the willingness of previously reluctant partners to engage in constructive discussions about addressing common challenges. I was encouraged by the openness to new ideas, new discussions, new approaches. It was as if we all recognized we’re in this together, and we’ll come through it together, as long as we tackle these challenges together. This strengthened my resolve.
I am certain about one thing: We can and must continue to work together to apply the promise of technology to the problems of humanity. Through the unique collaboration that is NetHope, I believe we can empower the underserved, provide relief and resources to the most vulnerable, and conserve our planet.
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