By, Helle Bank Jørgensen

– Reflections and Actions to Take in 2024

It’s hard to believe that almost two weeks have passed since my return from the whirlwind of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2024 annual meeting in Davos. The experience was a mix of an intense schedule of speaking engagements, networking, absorbing insight from so many leaders gathered in Davos and sparking meaningful conversations.

No sooner had I settled back in than we launched into hosting the year’s first Competent Boards Global Forum, where we discussed pressing issues that today’s board members and business leaders must grapple with.

The Davos dialogues consistently bring forth a plethora of groundbreaking reports. In line with this trend, our latest publication focuses on the current state of sustainability competency within the boardrooms of Fortune 500 companies in the US and Europe. This report, alongside other significant publications emerging from the 2024 Davos conference, such as the WEF’s risk report and the Edelman Trust Barometer report, does not present a picture of hope, nor does the theme of this year’s WEF meeting – rebuilding trust.

Analyzing the progression of themes for the WEF meetings over the years reveals a clear trend toward addressing the increasingly complex challenges faced by the global community. Themes have evolved from focusing on economic and business issues in the late 1980s and 1990s to more comprehensive and holistic matters in the 2000s and 2010s, reflecting a growing awareness of global interconnectivity and the multifaceted nature of world challenges.

Recent themes have mainly focused on global collaboration in the face of fragmentation (2023’s “Cooperation in a Fragmented World”) and the need to rebuild trust in a fractured global landscape (2024’s “Rebuilding Trust”). Given this trajectory, the theme for the 2025 meeting is likely to continue focusing on worldwide unity and collaborative problem-solving, perhaps with an emphasis on actionable strategies to address critical global issues.

My suggestion for the theme for WEF 2025 would clearly be “Stewards of the Future.” It underscores a collective responsibility for sustainable and forward-thinking global management. It emphasizes the need for proactive, cross-generational leadership to ensure a prosperous and equitable future, reflecting a holistic approach to addressing pressing global challenges.

– Fun exercise:

I asked AI to analyze the trend of the WEF Annual Meeting themes from 1988 to 2024 – so 36 years of themes – and predict the theme for 2025. AI says it should be “Unified Action for a Sustainable Future,” reflecting the ongoing need for collaborative efforts across nations and sectors to address pressing global challenges, particularly sustainability, while emphasizing the importance of translating dialogue and trust into concrete, unified actions. Ahem, WEF leaders, are you seeing this…..?  😉

Reflections from my discussions in Davos and our Global Forum:

I see a canvas of interconnected global risks, painting a picture where climate change, technological disruption, and geopolitical shifts are not isolated threads but part of a complex mix. The amplifying effect of misinformation in this mix is more than apparent – it’s a call to action, urging us to rethink and reshape our strategies.

Our reflections lead us to a pivotal realization: how boards and organizations approach these intertwined challenges must evolve. We’re stepping into an era where the focus shifts from short-term gains to crafting legacies. Our decisions today aren’t just about immediate outcomes; they’re about setting the stage for the generations to come.

One of the most striking insights from our Global Forum was the diversity in risk perceptions, especially the unique perspectives from the Global South. This isn’t just about adding voices to the chorus; it’s about harmonizing these diverse tones into a coherent strategy. The WEF report, while insightful, showed us the gaps in representation, reminding us that our strategies must be as diverse as the world they aim to serve.

Our assessment tool for boards’ sustainability competency in collaboration with Copenhagen Business School revealed a glaring gap in sustainability competency within Fortune 500 boardrooms. The assessment suggests that US boards are ahead of their European counterparts despite Europe’s stricter sustainability regulations. The question we should ask is, why? While we can dig into that further, one major reason could be that many boards have only one or two members who are sustainability “experts.” This approach is insufficient and counterproductive because it’s not just about having a few members with sustainability skills; the entire board needs to be engaged and knowledgeable about systemic sustainability issues. This isn’t a gap; it’s an opportunity – an opportunity to drive a paradigm shift. We need to embed sustainability not as a tick-box exercise but as the heart and soul of corporate strategy.

Some other revealing insights:

  • The climate crisis and the role of misinformation therein brought to light a new battlefield for boards. This isn’t just about countering false narratives; it’s about being champions of truth, building public trust in science and expertise.
  • The rapid ascent of AI as a top-tier global risk opens new frontiers. Boards must now wear the hat of ethical stewards, guiding AI’s development to ensure it serves humanity’s best interests. This is about balancing groundbreaking innovation with moral responsibility.
  • In light of the Davos discussions, it’s evident that sustainability remains a central theme, intricately woven with other concerns like technology and geopolitics. This necessitates a pragmatic approach in boardrooms, emphasizing not just on individual risks but their complex interplay.

So, what actions do we take in 2024?

We step up with a renewed sense of purpose and vision. Boardrooms need to embrace a holistic view, embedding sustainability into our governance and strategic planning. This means moving beyond compliance to being innovators and trendsetters.

We must champion a new brand of leadership – one that’s inclusive, forward-thinking, and rooted in ethical practices. It’s about nurturing a culture that values long-term impact over short-term gains, that sees the interconnectedness of global challenges as opportunities for transformative action.

In combating misinformation, we need to be proactive. This means not only countering false narratives but also fostering a culture of transparency and trust. Boards have a crucial role in ensuring their organizations are bastions of credibility and reliability.

For AI, the path is clear: we must develop robust ethical frameworks and governance structures. This involves not just understanding AI’s potential but actively shaping its trajectory to ensure it aligns with human values and societal needs.

In 2024, we don’t just adapt to change; we lead it. We become the stewards of a future where sustainability, ethical technology, and inclusive leadership aren’t just buzzwords but the cornerstones of a new era in global governance and strategy. Let’s take these reflections and turn them into bold, transformative actions that will shape not just the year ahead but the decades to follow.

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