My Thoughts on Davos 2018

My Thoughts on Davos 2018

So I have finally left the ‘Magic Mountain’ and am back in Zurich. The start of the World Economic Forum of Davos 2018 was chaotic, after the heaviest snowstorms in decades. Trains broke down and people started taking to the roads, leading to huge jams going into what is essentially a little village. I however found the snow magical, and the aftermath was breathtakingly beautiful.

This is my first proper Davos – although I have been a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum since 2009, I have very much focused on the ‘Summer’ Davos summit in China, since most of my interests were there; it also helped that I lived there.

I thus went to the real Davos this year with a very specific purpose after 6 years living in an alternate world behind the Great Wall and Great Firewall, where Facebook, Twitter, Google, Wikipedia and other vehicles of ‘Western’ culture are blocked – I wanted to see what the West was doing, what the topics of interests are, and what business opportunities are available ‘outside’.

Here are my takeaways :

1) Global doesn’t mean global

Often when we see the word ‘Global’ or ‘International’, it often means Western. Same in Davos. The global ‘elite’ was primarily the Western elite, and to me at least, very ‘White’.

Sure our own EDB and Temasek people were represented, DPM Tharman was there, there were India, Indonesian and HK nights, but the vast majority of delegates and people around the village were Westerners.

And even though Jack Ma was there, the Chinese were hardly represented.

2) The issues discussed, though presented as global issues, were primarily issues of the developed Western world.

This year’s theme – creating a shared future in a fractured world – was also in my opinion shaped by political trends in the developed western world where societies are getting politically polarised, populist and fractured. The developing world on the other hand are still struggling with bread and butter issues, trying to give their people a better future, rather than merely a shared future.

I was in a session about climate change when the speaker asked anybody from India and China to put their hands up. There were none. So he asked how we could discuss climate change when nobody from countries that made up half the world were there.

Great point.

3) Biggest difference is that whilst in Summer Davos in China it was business, bread and butter, and other more pragmatic issues, in Winter Davos, as expected, we have human rights activists, freedom of speech and expression lobbyists, and other issues that are culturally more ‘western’.

Also, in the West, business and values are more intertwined. An Asian business I know sent its sustainability chief to ensure that western countries did not cut off access to their markets because they were not ‘green’ enough. I tried to meet a well-known freedom of speech and freedom of the press social entrepreneur to chat, but he refused after looking me up online, because he found my political views ‘abhorrent’. Oh well.

I am used to money making being money making, without having to talk about ‘shared values’ apart from business ones.

Something I have to take note of if I want to do more business with the West.

4) I am OLD.

My biggest takeaway is I am old.

The most ubiquitous business theme this year was blockchain and crypto currencies. And ICOs. However I found that the vast majority of the people were saying ICO and blockchain without knowing what they were. I was left a bit confused and so I found a 20 year old whiz kid , sat him down with a few 40+ entrepreneurs and had him explain things to us.

And that was when I realised I am OLD. He was explaining things about forks, and nodes , and pools, and mining, and blocks and us 40 something entrepreneurs, all successful in our own ways, were left dazed and confused.

And then I turned to a friend of mine, an entrepreneur from France who owns banks – real banks – in Africa and I had an epiphany.

This was just like the 1990s when I was a 20 something dot com entrepreneur and trying to explain to 40 something successful ‘bricks and mortar’ businessmen what the internet was, that it was real and here to stay.

Just like the crypto kid was trying to explain to my banker friend that his crypto money was real and not ‘monkey money’ as the banker called it.

And yes I met quite a few young crypto ‘billionaires’ whose wealth in crypto is as real as shares in dot coms that didn’t make money, which were derided by the generation before mine as funny money too.

I however am in no doubt that even though blockchain/crypto is as real as the internet, we are in a bubble.

The question is which part of the bubble are we in.

Are we in the equivalent of the early 1990s? If we are we have a long way to go.

And that’s the most important question I have to answer as I embark on my next entrepreneurial journey.

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