5 Ways Business Leaders Can Impact Their Communities

Sarita Nayyar, Director of the World Economic Forum

Following the global upheaval caused by COVID-19, the continued far-reaching effects of the war in Ukraine and the growing challenges associated with climate change, the next 12 months will be characterized by unpredictability, which further increases the need for agile decision-making and responses.

Business leaders must not only manage the day-to-day challenges and risks to doing business in their industry, but also manage the consequences of several ongoing crises – falling costs of living, slowing global economies, soaring energy prices and climate disasters. And these are only the main challenges. Changing business models after the pandemic, as well as changing customer preferences and expectations contribute to strategic requirements.

Our work at the Forum is, as it has been throughout our 53-year history, an influence. We strive to affect change to improve the state of the world through everything we do. This included thousands of concrete projects and collaborations; discoveries that led to the creation of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance; and many historic initiatives, including the Davos Declaration signed by Greece and Turkey in 1988, which brought the two countries back from the brink of war.

“Impact” is an often used term. Beyond dictionary definitions and corporate theories, such as business impact analysis, is it possible to extract the essence of impact? Looking at the work and successes of the Forum, I would say that it is and that there are several prevailing principles.

Ambition for action

At least two transformational changes have occurred in the past few years: we are suddenly faced with multiple challenges that cannot be deprioritized. All of them require our immediate, simultaneous attention. And we realized that many of the challenges facing humanity are interconnected and as such often global. At the Forum, we are ambitious in our goals, which we turn into actions through work with stakeholders.

A strong example of this is our Water Resources 2030 Group. Launched at the 2008 Annual Meeting, it grew out of an ambitious idea to deliver on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 on an equally ambitious platform involving more than 1,000 partners and enabling funding almost a billion dollars for water programs around the world. It is currently concentrating its efforts on accelerator projects, enabling more than $400 million in funding for schemes that will benefit more than 7 million people.

A long-term ambitious vision offers a strong basis for business strategy in these difficult times. Impermanence and what can often seem like constant crisis management are distracting, making fixation on an ambitious goal a guiding principle – the greater the ambition, the greater the impact. This turnaround will help us reach major goals such as net zero and create a sustainable, inclusive economic model without losing our way amid the turbulence we find ourselves in.

To effect change on a massive scale – and in the rapidly closing window required – ambitious ideas and transformations are needed. History will reward those who show moral courage, make big, difficult decisions and take a radical path

Actively listen to change makers

It also became apparent that only by pooling our resources, skills, knowledge and collective intelligence can we affect change – and achieve impact – at the scale required. The Forum has long recognized the power of bringing together many different elements, which is reflected in its core multi-stakeholder philosophy.

Events like the annual meeting are the most obvious manifestation of this, using our power of assembly to bring together a truly diverse group of people to discuss and share their ideas on current issues. Whether they are business people, youth activists, academics, technology entrepreneurs, artists, philanthropists or politicians, they all embrace the desire to change the situation for the better, often seeking elusive solutions to the biggest problems of our time.

The annual meeting is the source of many ideas, acting as a focal point from which action follows. The daily work of the Forum is focused on the creation and support of many high-level groups. We have hubs around the world in the form of our regional and platform hubs, as well as the Global Shapers Community, a network of nearly 8,000 people. In addition, we have a dedicated innovation platform, UpLink, which provides a space designed to match SDG solutions with the means to make them a reality. Inventors and entrepreneurs publish their solutions for regularly posed sustainability challenges, and companies evaluate which are the most sustainable and support the best ones with funding and resources. All these actions are designed to give voice to ideas that would otherwise remain unheard.

Partnership is essential

With the sheer size and number of challenges facing today’s leaders, the cost of solutions to address them has escalated. It is not uncommon to read that trillions of dollars are needed to decarbonize the economy or to finance climate change adaptation measures, which become increasingly expensive the longer we leave them. It is clear that this level of funding exceeds the capacity of any single entity – nation, company or otherwise.

Partly reflecting this, a growing number of organizations are integrating work with external partners into their day-to-day operations. While at one time the idea of ​​collaborating with another company may have fueled fears of insider fraud, today’s partnership model will ultimately prove to be a competitive advantage as we move forward through the century.

Partnership is not only more efficient in terms of resources, but builds capacity, engagement and, more importantly, trust. It can thereby be a multiplier for good, creating models that can be replicated, thus encouraging transformation.

The Forum has long believed that partnership is the basis for progress. Since our beginning, we have worked intensively with business entities, the government and civil society. The European Management Forum (our original name) was the first non-governmental institution to launch a partnership with China’s Economic Development Commissions. Today, we routinely partner with many different groups. We recently hosted 13 grant-funded platforms, working in partnership to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals, each specializing in a different area, be it nature-based solutions or carbon reduction. Their goal is that collective action through partnership has a greater effect.

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