Business and political elites descended on the Swiss alpine snow in Davos to explore “rebuilding trust” in a divided world. If there’s any takeaway from the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting—boldly revealing this theme—it’s that we still have a long way to go.
From the raging wars in Ukraine and the Middle East to suspicions that corporate bosses and tech geniuses are trying to make money by outwitting workers with artificial intelligence, trust is lacking.
The Davos meeting ended on Friday, after an annual meeting that takes the pulse of key decision-makers. The idea is to bring people together, and good ads are often just the product, not the goal. That’s when they come.
“It’s not realistic to think that Davos—or any meeting, anywhere in the world—can rebuild trust in a meeting when it’s divided into so many dimensions,” said Rich Lesser, president of Boston Consulting. Group.
But thousands of conversations in the public, private, and social sectors will help create “a starting point to rebuild trust,” he said.
A large wall of art titled “Rebuilding Trust,” saluting dignitaries from Bill Gates to the Iranian foreign minister is filled with words like “Growth and Jobs,” “Climate Energy, Nature,” and “Cooperation and Security,” words that, for some, smack of verbiage.
Critics say the annual gathering, which began more than half a century ago, is the exclusive preserve of business bosses who covet more wealth and politicians who want to stay in power. The event was set to promote positive optimism, but geopolitical pessimism weighed heavily.
“What scares me, if not scandalizes me, about Davos is this amazing commitment on the part of the participants to adopt an optimistic mindset,” said Agnès Callamard, secretary general of Amnesty International. “But optimism to maintain the status quo and maintain my privilege. “This is not optimism.”
“It’s crazy, frankly, and it hurts our poor world,” he added.
The general conclusion, the participants said, is that the global economic outlook is a little brighter than one might think. Interest rates and inflation seem to be rising. in the richest markets, but it remains to be seen where the inevitable wars and upcoming elections in places like the United States, India, the European Union, and South Africa will reorient the world.
Here are some takeaways from Davos and the work that still needs to be done:
Ukraine needs more money
Long before the war with Russia, Ukraine was banking on prime land on the main road of Davos Avenue to promote its development and efforts to move westward. Over the past two years, authorities in Kyiv have used the event to call for more support for their fight.
In 2022, months after the Russian invasion, that’s an easy question. This year, war fatigue in Ukraine has spread throughout Europe and the United States.
President Volodymyr Zelensky led the charge on Tuesday, pleading for more support from Western allies as billions in new funding from the United States and the European Union remain locked in internal political disputes.
“Please strengthen our economy, and we will strengthen your security,” Zelensky said.
Britain, for its part, highlighted its recent $3.2 billion contribution to Ukraine and urged allies to do the same.
The future and risk
Concerns about the economy that have dominated the past year have given way to hope, at least on the part of business executives, that generative AI will increase productivity and reduce routine tasks.
However, pessimists fear that the technology’s rapid growth is too much for regulators, threatening to put people out of work and potentially sparking more misinformation than ever on social media.
Some say people should stay in control and not let technology make important decisions on its own.
“No matter what AI can do, people are still the reason to decide. Therefore, we must focus on training human resources, especially skilled workers,” said Pham Minh Chinh, Prime Minister of Vietnam, at a panel in Davos.
A climate of fear…
The plight of Israeli hostages held by Hamas and fears for Israel’s long-term security are on people’s lips, as some critics of Israel call the Gaza genocide—an accusation that leaders in Israel, whose people were massacred in the Holocaust, vehemently denied.
New talks on the creation of a Palestinian state—an idea rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again this week—fueled discussions with US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and others, as there is hope for a normalization of Israel’s relations with the Arab world, especially Saudi Arabia. Both of these things seem unlikely shortly.
Fears have grown over how many more Palestinians will be killed or injured, whether Israeli captives will survive their captivity, and whether the conflict will spread further in the Middle East.
For example, Iran and its allies are intensifying military action in various parts of the region and triggering retaliatory attacks from countries such as Pakistan, the United States, and Great Britain.
…and fear of the weather
An unusually rainy Thursday (snow is more common in Davos this time of year) sparked talk of another possible, if temporary, sign of climate change that CEOs and leaders want to address. in politics.
The speech at the Swiss ski resort, just a month after the last UN climate conference, is unlikely to advance the effort to combat global warming. However, business leaders shared ideas on how they could help.
The head of the UN, citing the hottest year on record, 2023, and fears that it will be even hotter in the coming years, says that countries are not doing enough.
“In the face of serious—even existential—threats caused by uncontrolled climate change and the uncontrolled development of artificial intelligence without protective barriers, we seem powerless to act together,” said Secretary-General António Guterres in Davos. “As climate destruction continues, countries remain committed to increasing emissions.”
But “discontinuing fossil fuels is essential and inevitable,” he added. “No amount of manipulation or scare tactics is going to change that.”
AP writers Masha Macpherson and David Keyton in Davos and Courtney Bonnell and Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.