Amid the Greta-rallied throng, the ministerial entourages and the editors-in-chief skidding on ice, navigating the goings-on of Davos is a complex (and cold) business.
This was my second year attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. And while there was a little less snow, the Forum’s 50th meeting showed no signs of cooling down its appeal to heads of state, international media and companies from around the world looking to launch new initiatives or forge new partnerships.
Bumping shoulders with this crowd can be a little intimidating at first, and experience on the ground and a mastery of the Davos lingo can only get you so far. Whether it was my age or possibly my crampons that raised the eyebrows of sceptical security officials and media producers, the demographics reinforce the feeling that Davos is not a young person’s game. The average age of WEF attendees is 54 for men and 49 for women, with women accounting for just 22% of the delegation.
But these demographic averages paint a disproportionate picture of the WEF and the broader activity that takes place outside the Congress Centre in Davos. There is undoubtedly a new generation of leaders, one that the Forum is increasingly making space for, and has secured issues such as climate change and gender parity firmly near the top of the Davos agenda.
In 2019, Greta Thunberg was an up-and-coming activist who at her first World Economic Forum warned the world that our collective house is on fire. One year and countless headlines later, while sea levels continued to rise and Australia drowned in wildfires, we watched Greta become the face of Davos.
At just 17 years old Greta Thunberg was the comfortable frontrunner of the World Economic Forum, dominating the news cycle, cocktail chatter and Google search trends. On some days, she generated almost double the amount of traffic as President Trump.
The debate over her ability to affect genuine change is not for this blog, but her astonishing mobilisation of younger generations is indisputable. The US Treasury Secretary’s suggestion that Greta should get an economics degree before giving advice cut little ice among Davos attendees.
This year marked a turning point in the prominence of younger voices, reflecting the broader evolution of the Forum from business powerhouse to political arena and now, a global stage for discussing the social implications of both corporate and governmental conduct.
And Thunberg wasn’t alone: Juanpa Zurita, the 23-year-old social media star championed sustainable development, while Priyanka Chopra Jones brought the Global Citizen Initiative to the attention of her 49 million Instagram followers. The World Economic Forum itself deployed a roster of YouTube-stars to host daily video re-caps. All this helped energise the conversations and optimism in the Congress Centre and even more so outside, where the crowds are significantly more diverse in almost every way.
“No one will be affected by our leaders’ efforts to build a cohesive and sustainable world more than our younger generations”, explains the WEF. A simple logic that invites those younger generations to promote their share of voice at Davos in 2021, while at the same time motivating business leaders and brands to re-justify their own commitments to improving the state of the world.
Not to mention the swathe of new leaders at the top who are all young in their new jobs and will need as much nurturing along the way. Boris Johnson, Christine Lagarde, Ursula von der Leyen. An economics degree or not.
While it’s unlikely that heads of state and business leaders will suddenly look less pale, male or stale by 2021, the agenda certainly will.
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