One thing that has not changed about the annual summit of the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland is the snow. From the time the plane lands at Zurich to the two-hour drive to Davos, the snow-clad countryside overwhelms.
But a lot else has changed.
“Welcome to the annual corporate Kumbh Mela,” I said to a technology CEO at Zurich, referring to the mega religious event.
But he was not amused. “Davos is a multi-stakeholder summit, not just for corporates,” he said.
I realised how true it was. No longer is this summit about dealmaking alone. Yes, networking is still a key activity. But a significant number of civil society and development organisations participate now.
In some ways, Davos has become a place where the corporate world tries to offer its most benign face to other stakeholders in the society. In some ways, trying to scrub away their sins.
The deep unease with capitalism is still strong in societies.
Even the Global Agenda Outlook for 2013 presented by the World Economic Forum highlights the poor reputation of capitalism. Most of those surveyed were neutral or negative about the future of capitalism.
Capitalism has to become democratic to survive. Only when it embraces the values of an egalitarian society will it regain respect. For instance, capitalism must help achieve Millennium Development Goals and not just focus on billion-dollar deals.
According to a new report launched on Tuesday in Davos – The Green Investment Report: The Ways and Means to Unlock Private Finance for Green Growth – if the public sector increased its annual investment in addressing climate change by $36 billion, up from a current spending level of $96 billion, it could mobilise up to $570 billion in private capital.
“Greening the economy is the only way to accommodate 9 billion people by 2050,” said Thomas Kerr, director of climate change initiatives at the WEF. “There are many successful cases where governments have targeted their public funds to mobilise significant sums of private investment for green infrastructure. It’s now time to scale up these solutions.”
But social organisations are sceptical. They feel that corporations want public funds to clean up their dirt.
Davos may well provide a platform where corporations will discuss ways of improving socially responsible behaviour with other stakeholders.
Indian CEOS attending Davos are keenly watching these trends. They are planning socially responsible activities that can resurrect their reputation marred in recent months.
Perhaps Davos will become a corporate Kumbh where CEOs try to cleanse their past.