The Davos Challenge

The Pakistani Prime Minister will miss a unique opportunity to clarify the world’s misconceptions about Pakistan by missing the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos

Posted on 01/23/14
By Ikram Sehgal | ViewsWeek
(Photo by World Economic Forum, Creative Commons License)
(Photo by World Economic Forum, Creative Commons License)

This is Davos week, the annual summit of the World Economic Forum (WEF). My first visit to Davos was in January 1993 as part of the delegation accompanying the then Pakistani prime minister, Mian Nawaz Sharif. The WEF was then not that strict about allowing non-members to take part in its events.


This year the Pakistani PM was to grace the Pakistan Lunch, now counted as a significant traditional event in the Davos calendar. Unfortunately the Davos trip was cancelled at the last minute due to the vicious terrorist attack at Bannu. The disappointment notwithstanding, the prime intention being to project Pakistan, the traditional Pakistan Lunch at Davos will take place as scheduled.


Almost 50 Pakistanis will join the record 200 WEF members in the Steigenberger Belvedere. A panel of eminent experts, including Dr Ishrat Husain, will debate ‘Pakistan Vision 2025’.


Little did I know in 1993 that in a few months momentous changes would start taking place in Pakistan, most crises man-made. Terrorists are holding governance hostage, and the PM’s cancellation of the Davos trip has thrown this up. Rip Van Winkle woke up 20 years later to find the world to be a better place, but Pakistan is worse off than it was in 1993.


The tragedy is that the country was then set to break the shackles of nationalization and emerge as a potent economic force. The most important thing for us today is not to let the future of our children become hostage to the vicious mindset of the terrorists.


Only a handful of Pakistani businessmen visit Davos regularly. In contrast over 125 Indian businessmen come as WEF members. In keeping with its exclusive nature the WEF only caters to the top companies of the world; the fee for being a corporate member is high. Husain Dawood, Atif Bukhari, Sultan Allana, Nauman Dar, and Arif Naqvi – Mian Mansha having dropped out – cannot shoulder the burden of projecting Pakistan by themselves. Emulating their Indian counterparts, our elite Pakistani community must use this unique opportunity in greater numbers. What one gets in networking in a week at Davos may not be possible in several years. The government may like to give tax rebates amounting to 50 percent of the WEF membership, annual summit and regional summit fees as an incentive.


The program pillars for this year’s annual summit are: (1) achieving inclusive growth; (2) embracing disruptive innovation; (3) meeting society’s new expectations; and most importantly (4) sustaining a world of nine billion people. The WEF ‘Global Risks 2014 Report’ highlights these risks and seeks to understand how these are interconnected.


The gap between the incomes of the richest and the poorest needs to be tackled and the disparities in income and wealth have to be addressed. That is the risk most likely to cause global damage in the coming decade.


Compiled by contributions from 700 global experts, the report details ten risks that are “global risks of highest concern” for 2014: (1) fiscal crises in key economies; (2) structurally high unemployment/underemployment; (3) water crises; (4) severe income disparity; (5) failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation; (6) greater incidence of extreme weather events; (7) global governance failure; (8) food crises; (9) failure of a major financial mechanism/institution; and (10) profound political and social instability.


Networking to create positive perceptions and taking advantage of it, both as a country and commercially, is what the ‘Davos challenge’ is all about
Before the recession, the buzzword was ‘globalization’, which is now believed to be an unstable system prone to be disrupted by political tensions – leading to financial turmoil. Nations must not adopt a do-it-alone policy; coordinated policy responses were deemed essential. Environmental risks such as water crises, extreme weather events, natural catastrophes, man-made environmental catastrophes and climate change present another cluster in the interconnections map.


Among interlinked risks climate change is of pivotal importance. This displays by far the strongest linkages and is both a key economic risk in itself and a multiplier of other risks, such as extreme weather events, and water and food crises.


There is a dire warning of a ‘lost’ generation of young people coming of age in the 2000s lacking both jobs and, in some cases, adequate skills for work, thereby fueling pent-up frustration. Unemployed youngsters also remain vulnerable to being sucked into criminal or extremist movements. The social upheaval could have catastrophic results as seen in some parts of the world recently.


Technology is a significant aspect of the employment landscape for young people – where the private sector can guide curriculum and training program design by communicating about projected skills needs. Establishing partnerships with the education sector businesses can improve apprenticeship opportunities. Educational and civil society organizations can also prioritize entrepreneurship education, soft skills and earlier delivery of sector-relevant and professional skills in schools, all of which promote employability.
The increasing reliance on the internet to carry out essential tasks and the massive expansion of devices connected to it increases the risk of systematic failure even more. Recent revelations on government surveillance have dampened the international community’s willingness to work together to build governance models to address this weakness. The effect could be a ‘balkanization’ of the internet, or ‘cybergeddon’ where hackers enjoy overwhelming superiority and massive disruption becomes an everyday occurrence.
While each risk holds potential for failure globally, their interconnected nature force-multiplies their catastrophic potential. To address and adapt to the ever-changing global ‘risks’, stakeholders must unite and take collaborative multi-stakeholder action. Businesses, governments and civil society can improve how they approach risk by taking steps such as opening lines of communication with each other to build trust, systematically learning from others’ experiences and finding ways to encourage long-term thinking.


President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is here in Davos and, though they will not meet, so is Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. The presidents of half a dozen Latin American countries are joined by the Brazilian president. US Secretary of State John Kerry will represent the US. Davos highlights a wide range of disparate subjects, debated and discussed by eminent experts during the week.
The Pakistani PM will miss a unique opportunity to clarify the world’s misconceptions about Pakistan. Actors Matt Damon and Goldie Hawn are chairing sessions on arts and culture. Other sessions concentrate on science, medicine, environment, etc. For me the ‘Partnering Against Corruption Initiative’ (PACI) panel organized by Elaine Dezenski was most important. We cannot fight terrorism without eliminating its nexus with corruption and organized crime.


A number of geopolitical initiatives were launched during the WEF Summit in the 1990s, including the Israel-Palestine dialogue between Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres. During the last decade participation from the private sector has increased in contrast to the public sector. The number of participant heads of state and government dropped from an average of over 60 to little more than a dozen, signaling a significant shift of emphasis of the WEF to its original economic mandate.


Networking to create positive perceptions and taking advantage of it, both as a country and commercially, is what the ‘Davos challenge’ is all about.


The writer is a Pakistan-based defense and political analyst. He can be contacted at 

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