From Davos: On Leadership, Diversity and Jobs

Feb 4, 2012 | The Economic Times

By Manju George

Deciphering the World Economic Forum’s annual think-fest at Davos is not easy – with hundreds of panels, workshops and thousands of delegates, the week is intense, conversations diverse. Add to this programme venues dispersed across multiple snowy hilltops and parties, the major networking galas that run till wee hours of the morning and you have an overwhelming, almost exhausting experience.

Two topics – the eurozone debt crisis and youth unemployment, at times masked within the larger topic of ‘reinventing capitalism’- engaged the collective grey matter gathered up in the Alps. Social entrepreneurs and young global shapers, stakeholder communities initiated by the Forum, made sure there were references to the widening global income disparities and sustainability concerns. Common across deliberations though was the reflective mood; the realisation that all is not well and the need for new directions.

While “Dr. Doom” Nouriel Roubini referred to the eurozone crisis as a slow-motion train wreck, Christine Lagarde cautioned the world that nobody is immune to the crisis. While the Indian delegates presented a strong economic growth outlook for India, it is important we recognise that the much-talked of ‘demographic dividend’ may pass us by if we don’t act on time.

Youth employment identified by global leaders as an economic and social imperative and risk coverage against future instability is particularly relevant for India. With the average Indian aged 27 and another 60 million expected to enter the workforce in the next five years, it is imperative that we create jobs. You speak to the India youth even in remote villages and you realise that their aspirations for the future are higher than ever before. Images of the ‘Arab Spring’ loomed large in delegate’s minds at Davos and we in India clearly need to share this concern.

In the Indian context, a major issue within unemployment is the fact that our college degrees don’t guarantee a job for our youth. There is mismatch between the skills potential employers seek and what our educational systems prepare our candidates for. At Davos, the deliberations on creating jobs included incentivising companies for job creation, stimulating SME growth and promoting talent mobility. More importantly, it highlighted the need for the industry to play a critical role in addressing ‘unemployability’ – a working group even suggested an additional measure for company performance, M&D: mentoring and development of young talent.

Collaboration and leadership were the oft-used terms when discussing the way forward. There were 30-plus panels related to leadership. And rightfully so, as many discussions ended up questioning the relevance of the traditional top-down leadership and decision-making models in a globalised world. With 50% of the world population under 27 years old increasingly connected through technology, it is important to find leadership models that are more inclusive, collaborative, bottom-up – probably chaotic but definitely smarter, definitely in sync with modernity. An academic spoke of the need for ‘reverse mentoring’; Prof Klaus Schwab, founder of the forum, spoke of the need to think of financial debt in social terms – ‘the more debt you create, the more you sin against future generations’.

Talking of including diverse voices, the concerns on ‘gender parity’ continued this year. Women constituted 17% of total Davos participants this year, up from 9% a decade back. Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu quipped, ‘we cannot make it without women’. While one can debate if greater women representation can enrich the conversations and improve decision-making, one would tend to agree with Sheryl Sandberg who said in one of the panels: ‘A world with women in power? Might as well try it. How much worse can it get?’.

The more you reflect, it becomes clear to you that the leadership of tomorrow has to be one that can take forward multi-stakeholder partnerships. It is clear that any one stakeholder segment cannot tackle the identified issues. Leaderships across business, government and civil society need to work together and it’s not going to be easy – even as there was increasing realisation that issues such as employment cut across geographies and stakeholders, perspectives remained narrow with people most worried about the short term issues closer to home – as delegates from Vietnam, India and the Philippines spoke of the virtues of vocational skill training in creating jobs in their countries, the Americans worried about what that means to American jobs.

At the end of it all, more cohesive answers, commitments and shared language would have been welcome. But why complain? Diverse voices across the same table are definitely a start towards a shared vision. And after all, it’s not every other day that you get to have a dinner conversation with Paulo Coelho!

(The author is co-founder at Intellecap and part of the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum )

This article originally appeared in The Economic Times.

 Image courtesy: ennovent global network – Manju George profile.


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