The World Economic Forum is a large and complex organisation with many levels of responsibilities. At the head is Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman, followed by a panel of managing directors, senior directors, directors and heads of various initiatives, each dealing with various regions of the world, industries and issues such as health, governance and corruption. The Foundation Board, which is ‘the guardian of the WEF’s mission, values and brand’, is composed of individuals who have demonstrated outstanding leadership qualities. Each member serves for three years. Among the current board are Kofi Annan, Mukesh Ambani, chairman of India’s giant Reliance Industries and Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF.
A great deal of work and research goes into selecting each year’s themes for the various Forums, topics for sessions, speakers and other participants. The WEF is also an outstanding research institution with an impressive databank. It brings a great deal of scholarship and research to its various reports such as the Global Competitiveness Report (there is also an African Competitiveness Report), and the Global Gender Gap and Global Risk reports.
I visited their headquarters in Geneva to chat to some of the people who ensure that the agenda of the WEF on Africa is relevant to the current situation and that the event unfolds smoothly and efficiently. The Africa team itself is surprisingly small, comprising four people including the director Elsie Kanza. I met the other three, Sophie Bussman, Dana Marquardt and Rebecca Ivey who, together with Kanza, work on the programme and carry out all the other logistics necessary. They told me that the themes emerge following a period of brainstorming, travel on the ground, meetings with CEOs, organising roadshows in major cities and consultations with government ministers and heads of state. There are considerable benefits for the countries that host the regional Forums. They find themselves in the international spotlight and the events attract investors and industry experts. This will be the first time that Ethiopia hosts the events and there is no doubt it will considerably boost their ongoing efforts to attract investors. The world’s media will also be there in force and be able to see for itself and report what the country has to offer not only in terms of business but also for tourism and cultural attractions.
The host nation does not make any direct financial contribution to the event but provides services such as security, policing, immigration fast tracking and so on.
Initiatives and projects
Arthur Wasunna, a young Kenyan who is project manager in the Partnering Against Corruption Initiative, told me this was a private sector-based anti-corruption movement. By working together, companies can avoid the ‘prisoner’s dilemma’, ie the reluctance of individual organisations to confront governments in case they are victimised. The initiative began in 2005 with 35 companies but now 170 companies have signed up. They benchmark codes of conduct and arrive at pragmatic decisions. For example, petty corruption and pilfering takes a major toll on courier firms such as DHL and TNT. Among their suggestions is better pay for customs officers and greater automation.
Guido Battaglia and Alex Wong are responsible for the metals and mining initiative – of very considerable interest to Africa with its massive mineral resources. Activities include arranging dialogues between mining companies and organisations such as the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and working to establish greater transparency in the sector, environmental protection and ensuring that communities do not lose out in the mining stakes.
Alex Mung is head of the water initiative, another key factor in Africa. He told me that at the current rate of growth, Africa will have a 40% water deficit but the continent will also need to increase its food output by 40% by 2030 and, since agriculture takes up some 70% of water usage, the figures don’t add up. A group of companies, including Nestlé, Coca-Cola and SABMiller, is working with the IFC and WEF to improve the water supply situation in Africa. “What is the solution?” he asked. “Do you build desalination plants, or prevent water loss, now running at around 30-40% in African cities?” He told me there were several initiatives but these needed aggregating, and smart public and private cooperation to overcome Africa’s water deficit.
Yemi Babington-Ashaye, associate director of Global Shapers, told me that the initiative had been inspired by the Arab Spring. It involves connecting with local communities in various cities and selecting leaders who in turn find a maximum of 50 others, all aged between 20-29, to form community hubs and the various hubs are then interconnected. They are helped to organise themselves to expand their capacities. In Africa there are 36 hubs. Some of the members are then selected to attend WEF at Davos to meet and interact with their global contemporaries.
Lisa Dreier and Arne Cartridge, from the Consumer Industries team, explained that seven African countries had formed a significant partnership called New Vision for Agriculture. They were expected to meet global investors in a day-long session during the Forum. A number of sizeable companies from India and Indonesia in particular had expressed keen interest.
Jennifer Blanke, director for Global Competitiveness and Performance, talked about a high-level workshop centred on Ethiopia which would involve the state, civil society and business. This could, as a similar workshop in Nigeria had done, lead to a national competitiveness council which would improve overall efficiency.
Gary Philips, head of the Healthcare Industry, said a number of global healthcare companies, such as Novartis, Merck & Co, the US pharmaceutical giant, and GE would be attending the Addis Forum because they say considerable investment potential in Africa. The idea is to look at innovations to create sustainable healthcare institutions in Africa. Pedro Rodrigues de Almeida and Hanseul Kim talked about how governments can select priorities in terms of infrastructure and real estate development, particularly in African rapidly expanding urban centres. They also wanted to use the Forum to persuade investors to think out of the box over some of Africa’s major infrastructure projects such as power pools, road and rail corridors and major power projects such as dams.
This is only a snapshot behind the scenes but it goes some way to explain the outstanding quality of discussion and debate and why so many conclusions at the Forums have shaped global history.