by Joeri Gianotten, Partner, AccelerAsia
We are off to a strong start to 2023 after spending a week in Davos, Switzerland, soaking up the atmosphere of the 53rd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF). The event resumed its normal January dates for the first time since 2020.
I came away with many impressions. It was refreshing to attend an event where industry leaders and experts discussed such an eclectic mix of topics and viewpoints. There were diverse perspectives on the state of the global economy, given inflation, the continued war in Ukraine and China’s reopening to the post-pandemic world.
A key topic discussed extensively was how governments and businesses plan for uncertainty and build resilience. There is no magic bullet, but it remains crucial as everyone searches for signs of the new equilibrium point.
The excitement of attending Davos began on my flight to Zurich as I sat next to Sabeen Fatima Haque, co-founder and CEO of doctHERs. She is a highly respected social entrepreneur who launched a digital healthcare platform in Pakistan, providing vital services to remote parts of the country. But more importantly, this innovation enables female doctors to perform their job from home and in their local community, empowering these women by helping balance their careers and family. Sabeen was on her way to Davos to attend the 2023 Schwab Foundation Social Innovation Awards ceremony, where she was one of 16 outstanding changemakers recognised for their achievements. For 25 years, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has supported the world’s leading social innovators in their efforts to create a just, equitable and sustainable world for all.
Sustainability, the Future of Work, Reinventing Globalization, and the importance of Emerging Markets were recurring topics from various panel discussions I attended along the main promenade of Davos. There was also plenty of talk about Gen Z and how zoomers’ expectations and demands as customers are shaking up business and reshaping the world of work.
For the Future of Work, it is pretty clear that no company or executive has found the right model, and everyone is struggling with the idea of making the office ‘a magnet or a mandate.’ Hybrid work saves employees from long commutes, allows more family time, and delivers greater personal freedom, but how to solve the missed mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities from working closely in the office with one’s colleagues and leaders? Some executives shared that it was easier when everyone was working at home, and others believe that technology still needs to provide an excellent experience for hybrid teams to be effective. There were slight murmurs that Gen Z might be shooting themselves in the foot.
Another highlight was McKinsey’s breakfast panel session on ‘Reinventing Globalization’. I learned that reinvention is critical in an era of climate change and geopolitical tensions. The world’s supply chain came to a standstill when China closed down during the Covid-19 pandemic, and global food supplies were at risk when Russia invaded Ukraine. Meanwhile, supply chains must become more sustainable to reduce their carbon footprint. Focusing entirely on China for production is not wise for building a resilient business model; global companies need to develop supply chain diversification, which provides opportunities for emerging markets as the workforce continues to rise in countries like India, Indonesia, and Vietnam. But building resilience also brings an added cost layer which businesses must prepare for, warned Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, the CEO of Temasek Holdings, a Singapore state-owned investment company.
Dubai’s DP World, one of the world’s leading five maritime logistics providers, organised another interesting session. I walked away with great insights from Yuvraj Narayan, Group Deputy CEO and CFO of DP World, and Serene Chen of Deutsche Bank and a WEF Young Global Leader. They called for the unlocking of investments in emerging markets – the ‘engine room for global growth’. But, they also argued that unlocking that growth should not be a ‘stop-start approach’ – you must be in for at least three years. As an alternative to China, India and ASEAN markets are seeing positive growth momentum, particularly in manufacturing, digitisation, and consumption.
The buzz of players from emerging countries impressed me most while strolling up the main street of Davos. It was impossible not to feel their presence from India to Malaysia and Indonesia.
My favourite was the Indonesia Pavilion and Indonesia Night, showcasing the economic opportunities Indonesia offers and its cultural diversity, fabulous cuisine, hospitality, joy and passion. I am probably biased as my good friend Sylvia McKaige and her company, Salween Group, have been organising these events for almost a decade. Thank you, Sylvia, for the invitation and encouraging me to come to Davos; it was a fantastic experience.
As AccelerAsia has a strong presence across Asia, this might be why I see the glass half full or, to use a phrase used by many global leaders at Davos, have a cautiously optimistic outlook.