The World Economic Forum’s 2022 meeting in Davos, taking place in person for the first time since 2020, has come as a welcome, and timely respite as the world seems to be lurching into yet another crisis, with the war in Ukraine showing little signs of coming to an end.
Appropriately, the theme for Davos 2022 is ‘Working Together, Restoring Trust’. We can only hope that the collective diplomatic skills of the organisation, honed over the decades, will encourage global political, social and business leaders to step back for a while from their own domestic concerns and take a clear and hard look at the state of the world today.
And the state of the world today is not a good one. It needs fixing. And it can be fixed but only if we all, the world over, work together for our collective good.
The pandemic was a severe demonstration of the butterfly effect and just how interconnected and interdependent the world is. A microscopic invader in one small corner of the world ended up by virtually shutting down the entire global economy and killing, according to the WHO, an estimated 15m people.
Covid was also a stark warning that the term ‘existential threat’ – often loosely applied to score political points – is very real and that despite all our technological miracles, we are still very vulnerable to natural and man-made dangers.
But the pandemic was also a clear demonstration that by the application of our greatest asset as a species, our intellect and the accumulated store of our knowledge, we were once again able to defeat one of the greatest dangers facing humankind.
But halting the virus in its tracks and reducing its potency to destroy to isolated corners, required the whole world to act as one and pool together expertise from wherever in the world it was available. As the frenetic search for a solution to the virus gathered pace – we were in a race against time – there were no talk of nationality, or race, or religion, or social class or wealth or poverty.
There was only talk of us as a species and how to survive the very real existential threat. And bar the shouting, we have done it – but only acting as one.
But no sooner had the imminent threat of the virus dissipated, than we seemed to once again find reasons to divide ourselves and to pit us against each other.
The rise of populist leaders, who use division and hatred for ‘the other’ as the basis of their power is exacerbating already fraught situations and in some parts of the world, governments seem to be at war against their own citizens. Democracy and the rule of law is under threat even in some ‘stable’ and mature countries.
As several experts – many on the WEF platform itself – have warned, all the ingredients for uncontrollable social conflagration are being assembled, perhaps blindly by authoritarian leaders, and a tiny spark could set the whole thing off.
Already, as a result of the war in Ukraine, there are grain, cooking and fuel oil, fertiliser and gas shortages and unprecedented price hikes for basics not only in the developing world but in advanced countries as well.
The human spirit is robust
All the while, the spectre of climate change is hanging over the globe like an often invisible but always malignant spirit. Unprecedented heat waves in India and Pakistan, destructive flash floods in South Africa, droughts elsewhere are only some of the manifestations of this serious existential threat.
The world is indeed in a bad way. But the human spirit is robust and resilient. The best amongst us rise to the challenges.
While there are those who sow the seeds of discord, there are others who plant flowers of accord; where the selfish and self-centred destroy for temporary gain, the selfless and big-hearted create and build; while the greedy accumulate and hoard, the generous distribute; while some stick out a foot to trip others up, others lift those who have fallen and put them back on their feet; while the fearful build prison walls, the courageous open doors; while the destroyers seek wars, the saviours create peace.
So it has been throughout human history, the yin and the yang; the positive and the negative locked in eternal combat. We find ourselves engaged, willy-nilly in this battle today. What we do know is that when we are united, as we were during the pandemic, we are powerful enough to defeat even the most dangerous adversary. When we are disunited, as during the current conflicts, we are at our most vulnerable.
WEF 2022, ‘Working Together, Restoring Trust’ is part of this battle. Can we regain trust in each other? Can we regain trust in ourselves? The human spirit is strong and we believe we can. African Ubuntu says: “I am because we are”.