Here comes my personal short and distinctive recap of what happened during the World Economic Forum 2024 in Davos. It will cover People, Business as usual, AI, and Sustainability.


But first, let me get to comments I heard again this year about my trip:

“Karel, how can you, as an advocate for humane innovations for sustainable circularity and systems change, head to the World Economic Forum in Davos? Isn’t this quite imposturous? Shouldn’t you mark your stance by not going there?”

As an answer, I first like to quote acclaimed Chris Luebkeman from ETH Zurich: “4 out 7 days a week, I am an optimist. And I don’t want to change that.” And in order to remain optimistic, I am going to the places that are in need of change. Also, Davos is a place where one can be united by differences. If we stop having a discussion with people we do not agree, then we stop being democratic.

People

In one of the first sessions I attended, Kim Dabbs from Steelcase beautifully coined: “fitting in is the opposite of belonging”. That explains everything. For example, when Deutsche Bank’s CEO, Christian Sewing, is calling for a different attitude towards work. That it’s the foundation of social welfare in Germany, and a 4 day work week at same pay is impossible. Then, the question is: are we belonging to the place we work, or are we just fitting in? Because we belong in the places we trust, we can be ourselves, feel at home, and build friendships. However, when we fit in, we have to adjust. Ask yourself: Do you belong to the place where you work, and how much time would you then spend? Oh, and most people fit into Davos. 

Business

Talking about belonging in the context of business, I have two observations to share (despite everything being business-related). First, if you are living in any one of the European countries, then you might consider yourself a European. As such, Europe should finally draw from its unity and build one single European market with only one set of regulations. The fragmentation of markets and the country-specific regulations (next to the EU ones) is just making business inefficient. To give you an example, despite similar market size Europe has more than 100 telecommunication companies, the US only has 3 to 4. Hence, collaboration and inclusion were a topic in Davos and should be our way forward globally.

I know it’s nothing new, but looking at current economic challenges and the needed transition to net zero, making businesses more effective is imperative.

Second, Germany’s current economic struggle and the doomsday mood you experience (check out the McKinsey report on German layoffs planed in 2024) are mostly self-inflicted, biased and might end up in a self-fulfilling prophecy. True, the heydays of 2010s are over and will not come back anytime soon(?). However, talking to a global community of business executives gives you quite a different perspective with an empowering outlook. Another reason to stop thinking in country specific markets.

AI

Yes, AI was THE topic at WEF 2024. It was everywhere. And, of course, any good sustainability application, be it in financing or reporting, has “AI” included. 

Refreshingly, however, was the perspective of the use of AI in space. European Astronaut Maurer underlined the need to have the collective brain power of mission control with him at any time. The further they travel into space, think of Mars missions and the communication delay due to the distance required to have AI with them on the ship. Also, the new series of exploratory missions to distant meteorites require AI systems that can completely autonomously make ad hoc decisions. This requires a shift in AI architecture away from cloud applications towards on-premises. 

Something that worries me in this context is that there are concrete plans to increase the number of satellites orbiting Mother Earth from currently 6.000 to more than a million. Again, only AI will make it possible to ensure they will not bump into each other.

ESA Director Aschbacher commented that there will be a need to discuss the ethics of utilizing AI in space. I can second this, and it should be discussed for its many applications.

Lastly, ESA’s Euclid mission in search of dark matter and dark energy sounded super intriguing. Imagine we can tap into the energy source that makes our universe expand…OMG! 

Sustainability & Circularity

Lastly, let’s talk about sustainability. Wow, what a difference from last year. The word Circularity was used in almost all major speeches. Not as a topic for itself but self-evident in how the economy is evolving. Great news because it means it’s becoming business lingo. 

But what about walking the talk? Next to the many startups and VCs looking into sustainable financing, I loved the deep dive into tree.ly and how we can better manage and sustain our European forests. Related to this is also the growing topic around Biochar. Biochar is charcoal made from organic waste to improve soil and sequester carbon. You grow a plant that sequesters carbon; then you turn it into charcoal that keeps most of its CO2 while using the energy won through that process. Then you sell the offset captured and burry, for example, the char in farming soil to improve water retention. No wonder there is a buzz about this.

To end, I would like to reflect on an amazing speech delivered by Sandrine Dixon-Declève, Co-President of Club of Rome, who pointed out that finally, after 50 years, the World Economic Forum Global Risk Report 2023 aligns with what the Clube of Rome postulated in 1972. Hence, she urges, “Today, CSO will be the next generation CEO”. I add with Chris Luebkeman in mind, they will have to give an answer on how we prepare living and working in a world beyond 1,5 degrees. 

Karel Golta

Karel J. Golta

CEO + Founder

Karel, CEO and founder of INDEED, is Swiss but far from being neutral. When he's not planning "the next big thing" with clients, you can controversially discuss with him the value of design.

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