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Davos Digest 2023 – Issue Three

January 18, 2023
Mountain view of Switzerland

Welcome to Issue Three of FleishmanHillard’s Davos Digest 2023. 

We’ve already reached the halfway mark at Davos – boy, time flies when you’re trying to fix the world – and there’s so much more to discuss.   

On Wednesday, more than 200 millionaires and billionaires, including Disney heiress Abigail Disney and actor Mark Ruffalo, called on the Davos elite to tackle extreme wealth. In an open letter, they asked governments to “tax us, the ultra-rich, now” to help billions of people struggling with the cost of living crisis. Talk about putting your money where your mouth is.  

On this theme, some fun facts… On site this year are 119 billionaires and the highest ever number of private sector CEOs, but the lowest ever number of Heads of State. US businesses attending outnumber China by 20 to one. 

Sustainability is also once again high on the agenda. After being released from detention by German police after a coal mine protest, climate campaigner Greta Thunberg is on her way to Davos to meet International Energy Agency exec Fatih Birol, along with other big names in youth climate action. We assume she won’t be dragged away this time.  

And finally, we couldn’t resist sharing the Telegraph’s cartoonist Matt’s own amusing take on Davos, THE place to be seen right now… 

Check out the latest cross-sector news from our WEF watchers in today’s Davos Digest and be sure to come back here for updates throughout the week. 


WEF at War 

Davos divided: Business leaders were probably hoping that their time spent in Davos would bring some welcome respite from being accused of ‘corporate wokery’ or, conversely, of their DE&I strategy not being intersectional enough. But interestingly (read: depressingly), it looks like the 2023 iteration of WEF’s Annual Meeting is the first at which the so-called ‘Culture Wars’ have played a prominent role, with the climate being the main issue in “warriors’” sights. 

Fink before you speak: BlackRock CEO Larry Fink has long been a doyen and darling of the ESG community. Speaking to Bloomberg, he complained that whereas until recently, left-wing critics, who viewed his and people of his ilk’s investment approach as a cynical marketing ploy, had targeted his company and his industry rather than him as an individual. Recently, though, attacks had been getting ‘ugly’ and ‘personal’. Whether it is a symptom or a cause, the polarization that this development suggests is only getting worse, and brands will need to know how to navigate this new era of division. (If only there was an original and enormously insightful report on how to do it?

Taking the fight to the alt-right: If Fink was more concerned with members of the militant left, participants of a panel, which included in their number EU chief Ursula Von der Leyen, were worried about the climate disinformation prevalent in certain corners of the reactionary right. The distrust and disbelief being sown by extreme conservatives is, the panel argued, being more effectively and more compellingly disseminated than the truth. Or as the quote – often attributed to Mark Twain -goes: a lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. 

Looking ahead: Global culture will continue to come under the microscope tomorrow, but expect questions also to be asked about the culture of Davos. Politico’s Davos Playbook contributors witnessed open drug taking at one of the summit’s infamous after parties, and the Daily Mail reported that sex workers flock to Davos in their droves during the week. Both stories that are bound to improve Davos’ PR problem of being for out of touch, overprivileged elites.  


The great resignation, quiet-quitting, and career cushioning – what’s next?  

Labour shortages and job shortages: We saw the great resignation in countries like the US, with over 10 million unfilled job openings as of November 2022. But what about low- and middle-income countries? Many of these countries are experiencing job shortages. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) reported that in the third quarter of 2022, global hours worked were 1.5% below pre-pandemic levels – the equivalent of 40 million full-time jobs. 

Human and machines working together: At WEF’s Future of Jobs panel, a session linked to the Jobs Consortium initiative, CEOs and trade officials discussed increasing technological adoption transforming labour markets worldwide. During the panel, José María Álvarez-Pallete, CEO of Telefonica SA, explained that every week of using technology during the pandemic was equivalent to a year in digital adoption. WEF’s Future of Jobs Report predicts that by 2025, the changing division of labour between humans and machines could create 97 million new jobs, while displacing 85 million existing jobs. 

Wages – feeling the pressure: Are you feeling the squeeze? You’re not alone – three in five workers around the world live in countries where labour incomes have not returned to 2019 levels, according to the ILO. Post-pandemic gains in wages are being eroded by high inflation and the rising cost of living. For the first time in over 15 years, real wages have declined by 0.9%. 

Looking ahead: When it comes to the labour market, CEOs are constantly looking for ways to improve employee retention and working culture. Tomorrow at Davos, Sander van’t Noordende, CEO and Chair of the Executive Board, Randstad N.V., will discuss the four-day work week. What else is on CEO’s minds? Corporate executives will meet to discuss trailblazing entrepreneurs tackling the world’s biggest problems. Tune in


The state of the pandemic and nutrition security 

Have we entered the post-pandemic era? Not so, says an all-star panel including the President of the European Research Council and the CEO of Moderna. Long COVID, disparities in vaccination rates and the politicization of science remain urgent topics for these industry leaders. With future pandemics inevitable, preparedness is crucial and collaboration between public and private entities is key to developing an effective response. 

Making progress on food security: More people are dying from obesity or metabolic diseases than hunger, according to Mohammad Jaafar, CEO of the Kuwaiti Danish Dairy Company. As a result, nutrition security is top of mind, with industry leaders encouraged to invest in affordable nutrient-dense food options to trigger behaviour change in consumers. Smarter thinking on obesity and international alignment on food standards are other key steps in reaching the goal of nutrition for all.  

Ending the stigma: Yesterday, Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun launched the #WorkingWithCancer Pledge, which urges employers to eradicate the stigma associated with having cancer in the workplace and to commit to supporting employees suffering from cancer or caring for cancer patients. Already embraced by several corporate partners such as PepsiCo, Google, and Unilever, the initiative has the backing of leading cancer institution Memorial Sloan Kettering. 

Looking ahead: Day Four will bring further discussion on pandemic preparedness, a press conference on closing the health gap featuring the CEOs of Takeda and the American Heart Association, and multiple sessions exploring the impact of data on the future of healthcare.  


An uncertain global future  

A global decoupling: This morning, the UN Secretary General António Guterres took to the stage warning the delegates we are “flirting with climate disasters” and that many will face “a death sentence” without further action. Guterres’ look at the future contained more stark warnings as he spoke of the “Great Fracture” of the two largest global economies, the US and China. He argued that such a rift could destabilize the world by creating “two different sets of trade rules, two dominant currencies, two internets and two conflicting strategies on artificial intelligence.” 

The economy looking up: In a more positive address to the delegates at Davos, the International Monetary Fund’s Gita Gopinath confirmed during her appearance this morning that the global economy has shown “signs of resilience”. Despite having what she describes as a “tough year ahead”, the IMF does expect global growth to improve towards the “second half of this year and into 2024”. This comes with the news that inflation in the UK has dipped to a three-month low of 10.5%, driven by a significant fall in petrol, diesel and clothing prices.  

Cybersecurity is a ticking time bomb: Attention turned to cyber threat as the Secretary-General of Interpol told a press conference that the level of concern exceeds anything seen before. He said there are a “number of success stories in global law enforcement” but that “we need to be much much better, at the end of the day”. This follows yesterday’s comments from Edi Rama, the Prime Minister of Albania, in which he said that cybercrime would be the third-largest economy in the world if it were a state and likened it to a ticking time bomb.  

Looking ahead in politics… 

Climate change is expected to stay firmly on the agenda tomorrow with Greta Thunberg’s planned appearance in Davos. Elsewhere, there will be a Special Address by Yoon Suk Yeo, President of the Republic of Korea, and a conversation on women’s leadership across the globe. 


Pixelated Peaks at Davos 

Hackers are obsessed with businesses: At a panel on the global cybersecurity challenges, Chuck Robbins, CEO of Cisco, observed that the threat landscape has expanded due to the adoption of remote work, IoT, and the current geopolitical events, among other causes. Another vector of vulnerabilities is the ongoing workforce security shortage. 

You can’t spell WEF without AI: ChatGPT is on everyone’s lips in Davos. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, who has a stake in OpenAI which operates ChatGPT, said at a Wall Street Journal event that the tech giant was planning to build the technology into all its products.  

WEF is taking over the metaverse: On Day Two, WEF found the time to launch its Global Collaboration Village in partnership with Accenture and Microsoft. The ‘purpose-driven’ metaverse will facilitate conversation between partners to “find solutions for addressing the big issues of our time in a more open, inclusive and sustained way”, said Klaus Schwab, Chairman of WEF, in a press release. We can’t wait to see serious people having serious conversations while looking like Sims!  

Looking ahead in tech: WEF is releasing its 2023 Global Cybersecurity Outlook report, where 86% of business leaders and 93% of cyber leaders believe global geopolitical instability is likely to lead to a catastrophic cyber event in the next two years. A panel including the chair of IBM EMEA will also discuss the quantum tipping point and how our economies can leverage this technology’s potential. Satya Nadella of Microsoft will also be interviewed by Klaus Schwab, Chairman of WEF.    

Be sure to join us for more insight from Davos 2023 in tomorrow’s Davos Digest.