Disney Davos

-8 degrees. It felt like -8 too. I know because my feet were freezing and I found myself begging the Swiss policeman ‘Sir, we have a hotel badge, why can’t we take the free shuttle? Pleeeeaaase!’

‘Wrong badge’ he quipped ‘You must have a horizontal one, and you only have the vertical hotel badge. Out’. And off we went, walking back to our place, a couple of small rooms rented out by a kind local pharmacist who lived 40 minutes away on foot.

Indeed, Katarina and I decided to attend ‘Davos’ just a few weeks ago. After all, this year’s theme being ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World’ it was hard to resist. We just launched a Corporate Purpose Advisory firm called RISE and the programme seemed made for us.

This was my first time, and as with all first times it was an eye opener. We had signed up to a few sessions, and been invited by 2 clients to their events, as well as helping out with the launch of an OECD study on children’s career expectations and the future of work at Davos secondary school. However, going to WEF is not like showing up to your usual big conference. It’s more like planning your next trip to Disneyland with your kids: you must plan and conquer. And include the detox afterwards. 

Walking down what I called ‘Main Street’ every shop and restaurant was turned into a corporate window. Facebook house, Salesforce chalet, CNBC Sanctuary, even Philip Morris’s ‘Unsmoke your mind’ venue (!), all lined up one after the other. Offering free booze, soup or coffee to attract as many as possible. Just as Disney is, Davos this year was USA – American firms and American execs aplenty. The only thing missing from the Disney park was Mickey & Minnie walking around. The famous people were kept for ‘the’ convention centre, which, as you understood from my intro, we could not even get close to. Strong (free) coffee helped attend the numerous inspiring sessions, even when they started at 7 a.m. My personal favourite was the one hosted in the SDG tent called ‘Business with Purpose’. I also loved going to the debates in the ‘Equality Lounge’ and, just as you do for ‘It’s a small world’ queue for as long as it takes to get in. So many good speakers, good points made and good business cards exchanged. However, as I left Davos, I could not help but wonder ‘how much of this is corporate talk and how much of what is being said actually implemented?’

The Forum, which was launched in 1971, was established to promote the idea that business should serve all stakeholders – customers, employees, communities and shareholders. In 1973 the “Davos Manifesto,” was written and has shaped the Forum ever since. We have entered the age of “stakeholder capitalism” and that is a good thing. I do believe that the WEF forum in Davos serves a strong purpose, whereby the Forum can assist with global conflict resolution in addition to promoting its own best practices in business management. However, from the outskirts of the convention center, after 2 days of going to all kinds of PR events, debates and cocktails…. I could not help but wonder how many of the companies present, actually ‘walk the talk’. How many bought a ‘fast pass’ and used this year’s theme to surf on the purpose-led wave just by being present by investing (lots of) time and money? I hope that businesses are truly inspired to follow through with the actions promised and pledges made, and that they don’t take us, the wider public, for a ride.

I left with my mind full, my feet aching and with a healthy dose of curiosity & cynicism to see what will happen this following year to ensure businesses follow up. I was happy to leave by the end of it and pick up again on my ‘Dry January’. In spite of all this, I already can’t wait for my limited access badge, the queues, the crowds, the nachos and the overpriced accommodation of Davos 2021.

#WEF20 #Davos #Purpose #Risepurpose #Sustainability