Martina Larkin is Head of Europe and Eurasia and a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum Geneva. As she states, the Annual Meeting in Geneva this year marked a number of successes, from both the human and the sustainability aspects. Sharing the insights on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the central topic of this year’s WEF, Martina Larkin believes in its potential to improve the quality of life for populations around the world. With regard to the refugee crisis, she explains that Europe needs to learn how to integrate refugees better as it is critical that the global refugee crisis is addressed with policies that can build resilience in addition to responding to the immediate crisis.
Since 1971, around 2,500 political, business, cultural and civil society leaders travel annually to the snowy Swiss mountains to meet in Davos. How would you describe the purpose and the impact of this gathering?
For 46 years, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has brought together leaders and leading thinkers in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, to exchange ideas and seek answers to the fundamental economic questions of the times. The Davos agenda reflects the world’s focus on managing global challenges and opportunities, from economic crises to political transformations and new technologies. At the Annual Meeting 2016, technology played a central role as this year’s theme was Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution. During the meeting, more than 2,500 participants from all walks of life come together to learn from each other, exchange views and prepare for a future of exponentially disruptive change.
The meeting this year celebrated a number of successes: since its launch a decade ago at the WEF Annual Meeting 2006, the RED campaign has raised more than USD 350m to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa; this year the Forum and International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development launched a detailed blueprint for strengthening the global trade and investment system; and the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced a high-level panel to mobilise urgent action on water and sanitation-related Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, we continued our tradition of honouring distinguished artists, including American actor Leonardo DiCaprio, Chinese actress Yao Chen, musician will.i.am and artist Olafur Eliasson, with the Crystal Award for their achievements and exemplary commitment to improving the state of the world through their craft.
The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution was high on the agenda in Davos this year where Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF said: “There has never been a time of greater promise or greater peril”. What kind of awareness does this message bring?
We stand on the brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another. In its speed, scope and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before. The possibilities of billions of people connected by mobile devices, with unprecedented processing power, storage capacity and access to knowledge, are unlimited. And these possibilities will be multiplied by emerging technology breakthroughs in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing.
As with previous revolutions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise global income levels and improve the quality of life for populations around the world. However, the revolution could yield greater inequality, particularly in its potential to disrupt labour markets. Overall, the Fourth Industrial Revolution has a major impact on business, government and people – forcing all actors in the global system to re-examine the way they do business, govern and live their lives. Ultimately, this all comes down to people and values. We need to shape a future that works for all of us by putting people first and empowering them.
From an economic perspective, which are the most competitive economies in the world and what challenges do they face?
According to our most recent Global Competitiveness report, Switzerland, Singapore and the US are at the top of the Global Competitiveness Index, which profiles 140 economies. They have shown a strong ability to nurture, attract, leverage and support talent. However, most countries need higher productivity to address sluggish global growth and persistent high unemployment. In addition, they need to be better prepared to deal with the speed, scope and complexity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will challenge all economies.
Among the global risks of highest concern in the society field of the WEF 2016 are migrants, specifically the migration crisis in Europe. What is the greatest potential impact on society?
The global migration crisis has dominated the agenda in 2016 – 60 million people across the world are displaced by war, violence and environmental disaster. The civil war in Syriahas forced 11 million from their homes. 4 million have sought sanctuary in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, and over 1 million refugees fled to Europe last year. Particularly in Europe, where the number of migrants quadrupled compared to the previous year, politicians are scrambling for solutions. However, things are likely to get worse with further deterioration of the environment, droughts and food crises likely to increase migration in the future. It is therefore critical that the global refugee crisis is addressed with policies that can build resilience in addition to responding to the immediate crisis.
There are potential solutions but they need imagination and courage to implement. In Jordan, a country which hosts 1.3 million Syrians, the government has created economic zones where refugees can find employment. Without the independence and self-respect that employment brings, refugees stuck in camps lose hope and fall prey to recruitment by extremists. To make this idea happen, however, requires investors to relocate supply chains to the region and train refugees in skills they can later take home. Turkey has granted work permits to the 2.5 million refugees on its soil and is providing eduation to 700,000 of their children. Germany’s Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has called for a new Marshall Plan to invest billions in the regions from where the refugees have come. Europe also needs to learn how to integrate refugees better. In the US, David Lubell has created Welcoming America, an innovative NGO which works to make the “host soil” of local communities a more fertile and welcoming environment for the migrant “seeds” to take root.
Water seems to be among the most important future topics. The annual cost of replacing and maintaining water infrastructure (as the OECD) is USD 1.3trillion for developed countries and emerging markets and remains a challenge in many countries. 783 million people still do not have access to clean water. How did WEF participants approach the topic this year?
The water crisis is one of the most significant long-term challenges in the world. According to the OECD, over a billion people lack access to improved water. Some 2.7 billion – or 40% of the world’s population – suffer water shortages for at least a month each year. And there is a real danger for climate change to exacerbate water crises, with impacts including conflicts and more forced migration.
In Davos this year, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim announced a high level panel to mobilise urgent action on water and sanitation-related Sustainable Development Goals. Chaired by the Presidents of Mauritius and Mexico, the panel will comprise heads of state and government from both developed and developing countries, with support from the WEF’s networks and platforms. According to the UN and World Bank, at least 663 million people lack access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion people lack access to basic sanitation services, such as toilets or latrines. To meet the targets set out in SDG6 – ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all – the panel will focus on public-policy dialogue, private-sector models and civil society initiatives, as well as promoting efforts to mobilise financial resources and scale up investment.