90 days after Davos, are the conversations still going?

Every year, usually in January, the World Economic Forum (WEF) takes over the little Swiss ski town of Davos for its annual meeting. World leaders, executives from business and major nonprofits, academics, activists, celebrities, and others come together to exchange ideas, debate policy, network, and outdrink the wine supply at a wine party. The 2024 meeting was set against a more dark and dire backdrop than in years past—wars across Europe and the Middle East, the ongoing climate crisis, rising tension related to AI—and centered on rebuilding trust. Under that overarching theme, discussion topics and keynotes were focused on four subthemes:

  • Achieving security and cooperation in a fractured world
  • Creating growth and jobs for a new era
  • AI as a driving force for the economy and society
  • A long-term strategy for the climate, nature, and energy

Following the meeting, my colleague Katie Parry wrote about the lack of meaningful climate conversations. And 90 days later, we’re curious: are any other truly meaningful conversations being had? Are the large consulting firms and think tanks that publish on these topics still wading through uncertainty, or are any discussing defined paths to progress in these areas? We’re seeing a fair amount of white space for ambitious ideas, thoughtfully and strategically presented, to take hold.

Security and cooperation in a fractured world is particularly urgent given the current landscape. One report, a joint effort by McKinsey and the WEF, seeks to measure the state of global cooperation and go deeper into the nuances and opportunities for action. Importantly, the report notes that cooperation can coexist with competition, which is a critical thread to pull. In fact, the headline of the Munich Security Report 2024 is that “many governments are increasingly concerned that they are gaining less than others.” When countries are focused on their relative advantage and competition at the expense of global cooperation, a perspective that says they can coexist can help lay the groundwork for realistic action-oriented solutions. WEF is keeping an eye on the situation, recently sharing updates on positive developments. As geopolitical tensions continue to escalate throughout the year, we see an opportunity for more prominent thinkers and innovators to discuss potential new avenues of cooperation and trust-building.

The theme of creating growth and jobs for a new era provides ample ground for thought leaders to provide insightful analysis and ideas. Growth and prosperity touches on emerging markets and local economies, gender equality, access to quality healthcare and education, industry and innovation, economic policy, and…quite a bit more. Beyond that, the challenges are great. The World Bank’s semiannual Global Economic Prospects report, released just days before the meeting in Davos, notes that global growth is projected to slow for the third year in a row, with developing economies and low-income countries seeing particularly weak numbers. In an especially dire take, Indermit Gill, the World Bank Group’s chief economist and senior vice president for development economics, said, “Without a major course correction, the 2020s will go down as a decade of wasted opportunity.” More organizations are building out dedicated research arms—for example, the Deloitte Global Economics Research Center—and the resulting data and insights will help contribute to the conversation. But what are some of the sustainable solutions that can promote growth, especially in weakened and emerging economies? Bolder policy, access to capital, greater equity measures, a focus on healthcare, job training including AI—all of these hold promise. The right content has the potential to further establish leaders on the topic and sway decision-making, especially leading up to the G20 summit in November.

When it comes to content on AI, is white space even possible? In some ways, yes. And the conversations from Davos—how we can use AI to benefit all, how to balance innovation with societal risk—are still circulating in the mainstream. When you consider that it can and will influence the climate, the economy, geopolitical relationships, how people across the globe live and work, and beyond, there’s a lot to say. But critical messages can also get lost in the noise, so pursuing more nuanced and specific angles—going beyond stating the potential or the risks and seeking to actually address them—can help. For example, thinking carefully about energy consumption involved in AI and how to determine the benefits that justify that level of usage. Or exploring the idea of “just because we can…does that mean we should?” Few are offering such a perspective, focused instead on the hype. Or a framework for decision making at the industry level. We have a long way to go; major music labels and SAG-AFTRA reached only a tentative deal on guardrails related to AI just last week, after the much-publicized 2023 strike and negotiations with Hollywood studios. While every industry will have its unique applications of and challenges related to AI, collectively these conversations help advance our broader understanding.

The long-term strategy for climate, nature, and energy is one thing, but the action plan—or lack thereof—is another. The conversations at Davos were widespread, with discussions on natural capital, the energy transition, the link between climate and health, and the work of some specific regions, including Brazil. And the conversations continue amid rising temperatures that are even more damaging than we realize, the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters, and more troubling news about our oceans. It feels bleak. But it’s a time when we rely on our brightest minds and innovators and look for threads of optimism so we can charge ahead. That’s one of the areas of white space for companies, especially in a dark news cycle: underexplored solutions or ideas, or the wins that create momentum. A Bain case study on sustainable tuna fishing, for example, or an exploration of how a Japanese company known for ceramic art and fine porcelain tableware sees an opportunity to use its craft to cool AI data centers. These are just some of the stories we need to see to chip away at the daunting challenge before us, and to carry that innovation forward to when the world’s influential leaders meet in Davos next year.

Alia Samhat

Alia is a partner at Leff. Her expertise is in creative strategy and content development. She spends her time working with writers, marketers, designers, video producers, analysts, and subject matter experts to produce meaningful work.