As the 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting wraps up, it’s clear that this year’s, was a different WEF*. The 2018 theme was “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”. The organisers aimed to drive a “renewed commitment to international collaboration as a way of solving critical global challenges”.
Did the event live up to the spin?
After a week of being surrounded by the glitterati of the corporate, NGO and political bubbles, one of the main takeaways I’ve heard from delegates and speakers alike is that this year the event was much more political, more focussed on technology and more EU-driven.
What’s driving that shift? First, major global economies, especially across the EU, are performing better. Gone is the gloomy talk of the global recession, Greek debt crisis and looming EU implosion. The rosier economic outlook meant WEF was ready for fresh topics and politicking.
A burning question both during the official panels and the chats on the packed shuttle buses was where the tech sector is headed. Tech companies have historically been the darlings of the party, but oh how things have changed.
It’s no secret that big tech has had a tough time lately – from major hacks and online hate speech to manipulated elections. Some of the big players, like Facebook, came to Davos on the defence. Policy-makers, NGOs and companies alike seem ready to tackle some of those hard issues with a multi-stakeholder approach. Some tech leaders are even ready for – shockingly – more regulation.
Will the political élite play ball?
The much-anticipated speeches by Merkel and Macron set out their vision of a post-Brexit EU. The future of tech featured large.
While not openly negative about the role of big tech in European society, Monsieur Macron made one thing clear: fairer is better. Macron clearly sees an important role for big tech and big data in the future of France and the EU, but he advocates a digital ecosystem that is both friendlier to newcomers and more beneficial to society.
Finally that brings up the political elephant in the room – President Donald Trump and the role of US leadership. While his appearance was the talk of the Swiss alpine town, it was generally viewed with trepidation. But in the end, his speech was deemed to be more of the same.
EU-focussed crowds packed their bags to head home with one question in mind – from climate to tech, is this our moment?
Only time will tell.
* Hot tip – that’s what the insiders call it.