For Elite? Yes. Ostentatious? Yes. But Also Effective.


Ana Lopes, a Luso-Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist, was visiting the World Economic Forum in 2015 in Davos when something unexpected happened.

“I was actually there with my husband,” she said of Don Tapscott, the famous Canadian author, businessman, and blockchain pioneer who was the official guest. “But spouses have access to almost every event – it’s not like we’re sent off to basket-weaving lessons or hanging out in the spa.”

For Ms. Lopes – former president of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health Foundation in Toronto – that access placed her at dinner with a small group of experts on global mental health issues, one of her main philanthropic passions. Ms Lopes was introduced to a young researcher who had recently developed a smartphone app to help patients access healthcare providers and manage their often complex treatment regimens.

“At the time, we didn’t really allow teenage patients access to phones,” she said of mental health services. “They were seen as disruptive.” But Ms Lopes was impressed with the technology and recognized its potential to digitize treatment protocols and improve patient outcomes.

“I reported the research to our team in Toronto,” she said. Within a few years, the Center for Addiction and Mental Health developed its own patient care app modeled on the one Ms Lopes encountered in Davos.

“It really presented us with a whole new world of possibilities,” Ms Lopes said. “It was a big step forward in empowering patients to manage their own disease and treatment.”

As the global elite gathers for the first real version of the World Economic Forum in more than two years, Davos will again be praised for its far-reaching impact and claim it is just a alpine party for politicians. and plutocrats. But for people like Ms. Lopes – academics, philanthropists, nongovernmental organization leaders and policymakers – Davos is the rare forum whose critical mass of intellectual decision-makers offers unparalleled opportunities to create change and get things done.

“Davos offers a level of closeness to like-minded thinkers that is truly unparalleled,” said Ms. Lopes, who intentionally seeks health-focused panels and events there. “You know who people are, why they are there and how to find them, and that makes conversations not only easy, but extremely powerful and effective.”

For veteran Davos attendee Jen Wines – former vice president of private wealth management at Fidelity and author of the financial approach and forthcoming book, “Invisible Wealth” – these conversations form the foundation of what she calls it “relational capital”. And Davos is the capital of relational capital – which Ms Wines defines as “an intangible super asset that is the basis of all progress”. It is the value derived from intentional conversation and connection building that anchors everything that happens in Davos.

For Ms. Wines, Davos has always served as a place to identify potential philanthropic efforts for implementation and activation at home. More recently, she helped found [email protected], a group of female CEOs, leaders and “changemakers” who leverage the long-term opportunities and relationship capital established at the forum to empower women. global visibility and decision-making powers.

Either way, Davos takeaways might not be immediately apparent and may take time to develop. “It may take some time to peel back the layers and maximize the opportunities that exist in Davos,” Ms. Wines said. “But the people you meet there are really part of your own ecosystem.”

This was the case of the New Development Bank, which was created by the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – to better use their economic resources for large-scale infrastructure and sustainable development projects. . Although officially launched in 2015, the bank was originally conceived in Davos in 2011 by initiators Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate and former Chief Economist at the World Bank; Lord Nicholas Stern, professor at the London School of Economics (and another former chief economist of the World Bank); and former Ethiopian President and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

The trio, Mr Stern said, had previously collaborated on a range of global development issues and were frustrated “with the really backward system that saw the economies of poor countries flowing to rich countries”.

Together, they crafted a proposal to create a new bank focused on emerging markets that would directly benefit the developing world. Although the first working sessions predated the World Economic Forum, “it was in Davos that we really decided to launch ourselves,” Stern said of the rapid evolution of the plan from concept to reality during of the 2011 event.

Mr. Stern concedes that Davos may seem like a place where the pursuit of profit and doing business with the private sector may seem paramount. But Davos also has an underlying altruism where social efforts like the New Development Bank have their best chance of advancing.

“We used our Davos contacts and our international contacts to give our idea the necessary level of oxygen,” Stern continued. “In Davos, you can make key decisions in 24 to 48 hours; everything in Davos can move very, very quickly. Four years later, at an official BRICS summit in Shanghai, the bank made its long-awaited debut.

The new Development Bank is one of many large-scale global initiatives to debut at Davos, maximizing its power to immediately communicate causes to critical stakeholders and end users around the world. Another is Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which was launched at the forum in 2000.

Similar to the mission of the World Health Organization, Gavi is a far-reaching partnership between vaccine manufacturers, governments, donor agencies, philanthropists and researchers to develop and implement immunization programs and large-scale vaccination in developing countries. With all these partners already present in Davos, the launch of Gavi made immediate sense both in terms of logistics and logic.

Since its inception, “Gavi has protected more than 900 million children, preventing more than 15 million future deaths,” Dr Seth Berkley, Gavi’s chief executive, said in an email. In the years since Gavi’s initial launch, Davos has also served as the backdrop for other Gavi-related milestones, including the creation of Covax, a global initiative to provide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines, which, according to Dr. Berkeley, was designed in Davos. in 2020.

The drive to “do good” may belie the public image of Davos, but it may encourage the kind of radical thinking that may even challenge the idea of ​​wealth itself. Take the organization Patriotic Millionaires, a group of wealthy people seeking to reduce economic inequality.

Earlier this year, alongside January’s smaller “virtual Davos”, the organization released a letter signed by more than 100 global millionaires and billionaires demanding that the super rich pay more taxes.

Patriotic Millionaires, explained its international director, Rebecca Gowland, seeks to ensure that wealth is taxed more fairly around the world so that all countries develop truly fair tax systems.

“We want to design global minimum standards to tax wealth much like we do for corporations,” explained Ms Gowland, whose organization includes heiress Abigail Disney, a vocal critic of extreme wealth accumulation.

While many Davos attendees may have balked at the organisation’s ‘tax the rich’ credo, Ms Gowland said the launch at the World Economic Forum was an intentional, if not obvious, choice.

“Wealthy people at the highest levels are usually quite isolated, so the opportunities to engage with them are very limited,” she said. “But we knew there was a community of other wealthy people there – and those were the people we wanted to target.”

Since the Davos 2022 call to action – which built on a similar plea at Davos 2020 – Ms Gowland said Patriotic Millionaires membership has grown. There are over 200 members in the United States and a growing base in Britain. and around the world, which she attributed, in part, to the “Davos network”. More importantly, while global tax reform remains a long-term prospect, the association with Davos “drives an agenda into the future and keeps it relevant,” Ms Gowland said.

Ultimately, as Davos watchers like Ms. Wines and Ms. Gowland suggest, the World Economic Forum offers the greatest opportunity for organizations and initiatives with big ideas whose impact will be felt for decades.

It’s not that the ‘Davos men’ and ‘Davos women’ lack short-term processing capabilities. On the contrary, no global gathering can rival Davos for the sheer concentration of influential and exceptionally connected brokers with the ability to turn “eureka” moments into tangible, actionable, long-term policies that truly affect everyday life.

“Davos is probably the most interesting global institution in the world,” said Canadian author, entrepreneur and blockchain pioneer Mr. Tapscott, Ms. Lopes’ husband. He said the forum was “way ahead of its time” when it came to raising cryptocurrency issues. “Davos represents the tip of a fundamentally new paradigm for how we approach global issues.”

Mr. Tapscott, co-founder and executive chairman of the Blockchain Research Institute, has witnessed this paradigm shift firsthand. In 2020, he was part of a World Economic Forum task force that launched the “Presidio Principles,” more commonly described as a “Blockchain Bill of Rights.”

The Principles, Mr. Tapscott said, began as a working group in Davos and evolved into a call to action to standardize safeguards for corporate and individual blockchain users.

“Davos was where people came together from all corners of the world to draft and reword and debate the language of the bill and ultimately get it published,” Mr Tapscott said. “Because Davos stands for cross-party collaboration.”

“Of course, there are a lot of rich and famous people there,” Mr. Tapscott continued, “but what actually happens in Davos may be very different from what many people imagine.”


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