Lessons for a ‘can do world’ – Top leaders share what’s needed after Davos

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This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Linda Lacina, Digital Editor, World Economic Forum


  • Subscribe to Meet The Leader on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
  • Meet The Leader is the podcast from the World Economic Forum that features the world’s top changemakers, showcasing the habits and traits effective leaders can’t work without.
  • Joy, focus and commitment: Leaders share what’s needed to tackle solutions after Davos.

Leaders gather at the Annual Meeting in Davos to discuss solutions to the world’s biggest problems. But how can they keep that sense of optimism once they return from the mountain? On the latest Meet The Leader podcast, CEOs, experts and more attending the May event shares their hopes and suggestions for how progress can move forward after Davos.

Leaders featured: Ray Dalio, Founder, Bridgewater Associates; Lindiwe Matlali, Founder, Africa Teen Geeks; Frans van Houten, CEO, Royal Philips; Alex Liu, Managing Partner, Kearney; Achim Steiner, Administrator, UNDP; Nela Richardson, Chief Economist, ADP; Kristian Teleki, Director, Friends of Ocean Action; Tolullah Oni, urban epidemiologist at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.

Work quickly

Frans van Houten: Well, the psychology of change says that, actually, people need to start working on their intentions within four days after arriving home. So, please do not postpone. Bring a few of your engineers together, a few of your other folks and give them an assignment to bring the best ideas together, because in your company, in your organization, surely there are a lot of folks who are very inspired, about saving the planet, saving biodiversity, and getting on the circular path.

Circularity is all about weaning ourselves off the linear economy where we consume, and then it goes to waste. When adopting circularity, we’re going to reuse materials, we are going to refurbish products for a new life. We are going to ensure that nothing goes to waste.

So, if you’re a leader here at Davos, on Monday you’re going to set these people to the task of getting your company or organization on a circular path.

Understand the risks irreconcilable differences bring

Ray Dalio, the founder and co-Chief Investment Officer at Bridgewater Associates, recently wrote a book: Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order. His book identifies patterns that can help leaders navigate disruption. He shared some advice on how leaders can weather current turmoil. Here’s what he had to say and what he hopes comes next.

Ray Dalio: The one big thing that leaders could do to make the best out of this situation is, to think about that the greatest risks are these wars. The greatest risks are irreconcilable differences that in one way or another are going to substantially hurt the world economy, which will hurt the poorest people the most. And if that’s put as the number one thing that must be avoided and you work between each other so that you could still have competitions, you can still do all of that other competing, but you don’t cross those red lines that are going to lead to these types of terrible conflicts. That would be the most important thing.

Fix the ocean, fix the planet

Kristian Teleki, Director of Friends of Ocean Action, notes that keeping the ocean front of mind can help leaders meet larger climate goals.

Kristian Teleki: So, any leader going back should think about what the ocean means for them, as far as climate change (is concerned). We know that there are five solutions that can get us 20% of the way to the greenhouse gas reduction emissions, to get us to the 1.5-degree target. Think about it. Those five solutions are: reducing emissions from maritime; nature-based solutions; shifting diets to eat more low carbon-intensive food from the ocean; offshore wind or offshore, renewable energy, and, indeed, storing carbon in the seabed.

But if you take one of those — for example offshore renewable energy — that’s like taking 1 billion cars off the road a year. So the ocean is there, it can help us get to where we need to in battling climate change, but we just need to implement these things.

Remember the ‘power of one’

Achim Steiner is an economist by training, a passionate advocate for digital inclusion and the administrator of the UNDP, the United Nations Development Programme. That background drives home for him the power of individual action. Here what he hopes stays with leaders long after the Annual Meeting:

Achim Steiner: UNDP produced a new report a few months ago called Human security and new threats to it in the age of the Anthropocene, and one of those staggering figures in there was that six out of seven people today actually feel a great deal of insecurity. Insecurity has not only something to do with one’s own sense of what is happening in the world. It also erodes our confidence about ourselves and what we can do about it.

So, I think one of the things that I hold on to is that the power of one is immensely important. You know, so many people feel disempowered in the world today — whether you’re a young person, maybe a girl child in school, whether you are a person living in the midst of a civil war or perhaps in a country where electricity is not yet available to your family, to your household. And yet, people can change things.

I think we need to continuously focus on giving individuals the sense that they matter, but they can also matter to what happens next. And I think that, to me, remains a sort of departure point in anything we do and wherever it takes you, that is your life’s choice. But believe in the power of one, believe in the power of the community, the society, the human family to change what happens next.

“Believe in the power of one, believe in the power of the community, the society, the human family to change what happens next.”—Achim Steiner, Administrator, UNDP

Think of the most vulnerable

Lindiwe Matlali is the founder of Africa Teen Geeks, one of the largest computer science non-profit organizations in Africa. She is passionate about tech and tackling the barriers to building the next generation of tech entrepreneurs. Here is her message to leaders about the world’s most vulnerable.

Lindiwe Matlali: Take your role seriously. Understand it’s really about the responsibility you have.

Once you have that role, (once) you understand that, you become sort of a father or a stepfather of every child — the ones that are the most vulnerable like the orphans, the poor. The only thing that helps them, because they depend on government, depend on those funds.

So, when you make the decision, think about that. Put yourself in the position. Before you start enriching yourself — none of us are completely selfless — but if your responsibility is to look after others, take it seriously and try and do it right. Because it’s not about you. When you make the poor decisions, it affects the vulnerable the most.

Tap into youth

Tollullah Oni is a public health physician and an urban epidemiologist. She urges leaders to expand their circle and connect with younger generations, knowing the power this can have in the world’s most advanced cities. Here’s her take:

Tollullah Oni: Get somebody you work with to say, who are the young people in our city, in our country, who are active and mobilizing for climate action, who are active in mobilizing for environment and for healthy spaces, because there is a lot of innovation in that space.

I think the most advanced cities are the ones that figure out how to incorporate participatory governance, and are really not just seeing young people as the beneficiaries, but seeing them as a drivers and key agents of change. So, I would say get home and find out who the young people in your area are that are active, and work out how to get them involved in any plans that you’ve got — now and in the future.

Build on new relationships

Nela Richardson is the Chief Economist at ADP, a human capital management company. And she’s also co-head of the ADP research Institute. Here’s what she had to say about this unique moment to come together and how we can build upon it.

Nela Richardson: The quote that “Everything I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten” also plays well in Davos, because in kindergarten, one of the big lessons that teachers teach kids is the value of cooperation. I can’t think of a better time to see global cooperation.

That’s the promise of bringing everyone to this Forum, to these mountaintops —it is not just to meet each other this week, but really to build relationships, thought interaction that leads to extreme cooperation in a time where the world really needs it.

“I can’t think of a better time to see global cooperation.” —Nela Richardson, Chief Economist, ADP

Joy’s Role in Progress

Alex Liu of Kearney believes a sense of joy also has a role in progress. He explains more below:

“Joy leads to gratitude. It leads to optimism. It leads to hope. And I think it leads to solutions.” —Alex Liu, Managing Partner, Kearney

Alex Liu: It’s okay to be relentless and ambitious and career-minded and feed your family. But you also need to find in the moment, those sources of loving what you do, loving, where you are, loving yourself. And I think that is the key to unlocking the energy to solve all these problems. The problems we know, the solutions are there, but the people are the ones that are exhausted — it’s too hard!

Joy leads to gratitude. It leads to optimism. It leads to hope. And I think it leads to solutions. This is a can-do world. I think this is a can-do forum. And without joy, it’ll take longer.

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