Davos 2013: 'Dynamic resilience' in a volatile world

By Jorn Madslien
BBC News


Nobody talks about "resilience" when all is well.

The ability to bounce back, stronger than ever, after having been knocked for six, is what is required now, both by the global economy, by governments and by companies.

As such, resilience could perhaps be defined as a mixture of determination, ability and hope that everything will be all right in the end.

"Resilient" is one of the two buzzwords at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting this week.

The other buzzword is "dynamism".

The global business leaders and politicians who are gathering in Davos in Switzerland this week appear to see the term as synonymous with forceful and energetic behaviour, whether by individuals such as themselves, or by companies, governments or international institutions.

And so the show begins.

Delegates who attend Davos week - at times described as a fat cat indulgence, at times derided as a conspiracy aimed at further enriching the wealthy while squeezing the weak and the poor, at times merely dismissed as irrelevant - feel they have a vital job to do; develop "resilient dynamism" on a global scale.

Worthy subjects

Normally, visitors to this ski resort seek nothing more dynamic than pumping knee-deep powder snow or perhaps enjoying a knees-up in one of Davos's nightclubs.

This week's crowd is different.

What gets them pumped up is the prospect of spending their days considering topics such as youth unemployment, global warming or the pitfalls of fiscal stimulus versus the drawbacks of austerity at a time of mounting deficits and widespread economic strife.

The evenings this week will be dressed up as parties, complete with cocktails and canapes, though again the conversations are steered towards the worthy.

The talk at the dinner parties in Davos is about how companies can best prepare for the growing volume of information, or how the global health context is in flux.

There are receptions celebrating the "critical role women play" in shaping and advancing the global economy, or the rapid expansion and increasing importance of online education.

Light-hearted entertainment for this audience consists of sessions about how failure amongst artists can enhance creativity and thus be seen as an opportunity, or a guided tour of art that translates scientific imagery into large-scale works.

Movers and shakers

Consider the guest list - for they are all guests, invited by the forum - and it will soon become apparent why this crowd stands out.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to open the forum on Tuesday, to be followed by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti.

Global figures include United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and the International Monetary Fund's managing director, Christine Lagarde.

The guest list includes 50 presidents and prime ministers, a small army of royals, more than 1,000 chairmen and chief executives of some of the world's largest companies and an assorted sprinkling of leading figures from academia, the arts, the media and from showbiz.

Clearly, this is more than merely a gathering of the chattering classes. These are movers and shakers, and they have plenty to get on with.

Resilient world

The need to stabilise the shaky world economy is perhaps the biggest challenge facing the leaders in Davos.

There will be much talk about how the eurozone crisis can be solved, what the next step should be in the US where a debt ceiling still casts a dark shadow over optimism, and about how income inequality has become a problem for all - rather than merely an advantage for haves over have-nots.

Experts will be here to tell the leaders why it matters. They will tell them that more infants die during recessions than during economic booms, and that girls are more affected than boys.

The shortcomings of modern medicine will be highlighted. Again, there will be experts on hand to tell the leaders about rising resistance to antibiotics, about the way a hyperconnected world can quickly spread pandemics, or about concerns about how it is foolhardy to be complacent in a world where genetic mutation often outpaces human innovation.

Global security will be high on the agenda too, its importance - to both companies and governments, citizens and employees alike - highlighted by the Algerian hostage situation and the subsequent shoot-out that in the end cost so many lives.

But do not expect a definite outcome from all these formal talks, such as a declaration or a signed resolution.

That is not the aim here.

The declared aim of Davos is rather to share ideas, to inspire change, to give the leaders the ammunition they will need once they leave this secluded alpine valley and return to the real world, ready to change things, bit by bit, until hopefully, one day, the world has become a better place.

And if it never does become any better, then at least its leaders, its institutions, its companies and its nations, should be able to deal with the challenges that are thrown at them in a dynamic fashion.

The hope and the warning therein are thus: let the world become resilient, for it is going to need it.

Jorn Madslien is features editor of the BBC News website's business and economics pages. You can follow his coverage on Twitter @jornmadslien

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