This year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos has developed its programme of events around the themes of responsive and responsible leadership. It could not come at a more critical time for the world’s elite. 2016 saw huge upheaval around the world and the beginnings of a complete restructuring of the world order.
Some have sought to portray Davos as another talking shop. If we are to avoid this caricature, we need to understand why we are failing to connect with growing numbers of people around the world.
I have been heartened by the way Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK, is bridging the divide created by the acrimony of the referendum. The reorientation of policy to acknowledge the challenges faced by elements of the population who have felt ignored is to be welcomed. Her clear focus on those ‘just-about-managing’ is to be applauded. Though more needs to be done, Britain appears to be ushering in a new phase of democracy’s story; responsive and responsible leadership in action.
Responsiveness does not mean overreacting or knee-jerk policy responses. The best way to ensure that responses are measured and reasonable is to be clear on what is motivating the solution.
My father, S.P Hinduja, the Hinduja Group’s chairman instilled in our family and business that by doing right by others, they will in turn do right by us. This simple and easy to follow mantra means that rooted in all decision making is a desire to benefit others first. This requires humility and patience, something which has been sadly lacking from the public sphere. But it has seen our family’s business last nearly 100 years, so I would argue that values create real lasting value, particularly where you put others first.
For many in business and politics, the next quarter, the next set of results, the next poll, the next election, the next news cycle is their focus. Not the employee. Not the customer. Not the voter. Not the people. Not the issues. Not the challenges. Not the long-term. This is dehumanising the public sphere. Profit trumps people. Efficiency is valued over efficacy. Political point scoring beats principles.
While some attendees of Davos may be comfortable with aspects of this, the world’s people are increasingly saying they are not. People are complicated. They do not work on a three month cycle. They live pay cheque to pay cheque or worse. Their challenges are significant and unless we can understand them and provide real, long-lasting solutions, we will see 2016 repeated. With key elections coming across large parts of Europe, a new President, the invoking of Article 50 and plenty more besides, there are enough geopolitical events to cause more instability.
As such we need to humanise the public sphere again. Political and business leadership comes with enormous responsibility as well as the trappings of fame and success. Sadly, I believe we have lost sight of this crucial element. We need to put others and their needs first more than we do.
In response to this, WEF has identified a number of initiatives which are designed to focus the attention of our leaders and I will seek to engage with as many as is possible.
To my mind, the most pressing challenge is delivering secure, rewarding and inclusive employment that equips workers with the skills to grow the 21st century economy and their own prosperity. This will necessitate reconsidering our priorities and indeed our values. Profit is important, but if it comes at the expense of workers (who are ultimately consumers too), is it profit worth having? There’s not much point in being number one in your market, if that market is shrinking and your consumers lack the ability to afford your products.
Under the ‘Shaping the Future of Economic Growth and Social Inclusion’ initiative, WEF delegates have an opportunity to reimagine how we can engage on the issue of employment and skills and how that aides growth and inclusion. However reimagining is no longer sufficient – action is required. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump were the result of our inability to walk-the-walk on this key issue. We must do better.
If 2016 could be characterised by the world’s public screaming ‘Change’, 2017 must be the year we reinstate values in to political and business leadership. We can start by putting the public first.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Hinduja Bank or the Hinduja Foundation US.