For global development leaders, Davos is about making deals

Photo by: Benedikt von Loebell / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

DAVOS, Switzerland — The World Economic Forum annual meetings drew more than 3,000 stakeholders from across sectors, and while development was not always top of an agenda that focused on “making globalization 4.0 work for all,” some significant commitments were made, including on aid issues such as mental health, disability, and refugees.

As leaders from around the world underlined the importance of multilateralism and called for cooperation on global challenges, the Wellcome Trust committed $260 million to mental health, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth announced a new $50 million collaborative philanthropy effort, and the IKEA Foundation backed a development impact bond for refugees.

Some criticize gatherings like these, saying the global elite are in fact complicit in the problems they are supposedly trying to solve.

“The people gathered here in Davos are the winners in a global economic system that has created the inequality and climate crises,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam, said in an email to Devex. “It is unlikely they will be the ones to call time on our broken economies and start building fairer more human economies in their place.”

Many of the outcomes of the week-long gathering do not make it onto the public stage or the press conference room — coming about instead behind closed doors at the many bilateral meetings, roundtables, and parties that extend down the promenade.

“I’ve almost never been to an open session in the Congress Hall,” Helen Clark, who attended Davos for eight consecutive years as the former administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, told Devex. “It’s what happens behind the scenes.”

“I’ve almost never been to an open session in the Congress Hall. It’s what happens behind the scenes.”

— Helen Clark, former UNDP administrator

It is in these settings that global development leaders start the conversations that they hope will turn into meaningful partnerships in time for the 50th annual WEF meetings next year. Here are some of the major deals that are likely to emerge from this year’s forum.

Investing in global health

Leaders from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative were in Davos to make the pitch to donors; each need to raise funds over the next 18 months.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has contributed $10 billion to global health funds that buy and distribute medicines, is working to mobilize support for these institutions, warning that without more funding, the organizations will have to scale back their efforts.

On Wednesday, Bill Gates and Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann laid out the investment case and discussed their concerns that domestic politics will hurt these organizations’ ability to raise the funds they need.

While key government funders, including the U.S., the U.K., and France, are facing pressures at home, the replenishment efforts need existing donors to commit, Desmond-Hellmann said. The Gates Foundation is working to strengthen ties with African philanthropists and donors in Asia and the Middle East as it works with the Global Fund and Gavi to raise funds, she said. While Bill Gates is in Davos, Melinda Gates is holding meetings elsewhere in Europe, to talk about the return on investment in global health.

Peter Sands, Global Fund executive director, explained that while it is true the returns on investment in global health are very high, the challenge that can arise in fundraising is the returns go to society, not to the people who pay the money.

But when it comes to these diseases, “you are either winning against them or they are beating you,” he said, “and the economics of being on the back foot are terrible.”

In Davos, Sands and Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, made the case for investing in global health ahead of their replenishments — onstage and in smaller meetings with key donors.

Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Gates Foundation, talks about how she makes the case for global health financing. Via YouTube

Making the digital economy inclusive

Rwanda is the first African country to join a global trading platform launched by Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce company that has made it easier for people to start businesses, reach more consumers, and access financing.

The Electronic World Trade Platform connects Chinese and Rwandan buyers and sellers, helping Rwandan coffee farmers and others who have been limited by the size of the domestic market to reach new consumers.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Rwandan President Paul Kagame discussed the partnership in Davos, urging other African countries to learn from a model that has created 38 million jobs in China. The conversation was part of a broader focus at Davos on ways African leaders can take advantage of digital technologies so their countries are not left behind.

At an event on inclusive growth and digital technology, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva said development efforts cannot succeed unless they factor in the incredible speed of change driven by technology. She expanded on the World Bank’s plans to invest in a digital Africa. The most effective weapon to fight the war on poverty is digital, she said, noting how she looks to Ma as a partner in developing an effective strategy to support small and medium enterprises.

Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s minister of information and communications technology and innovation, joined Kagame in Davos. Representatives of the country, who have worked closely with WEF’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to build technology partnerships, said Davos has been helpful in building the kinds of partnerships the country needs, including with tech companies, academics, and development institutions.

Alibaba could have just replicated its company in Africa, but it’s partnerships like these that allow for tech solutions that work in the African context, Ingabire said.

WEF brought some of those partners together, for example by launching a new initiative backed by Pact and the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation to help civil society prepare for rapid technological change.

Engaging the private sector, and not just philanthropically

How to align business and development interests was, as ever, a major topic at Davos, said Caroline Kende-Robb, the secretary general of CARE, who spoke of a new sense of urgency among business and political leaders.

“What’s been seen at Davos is an even bigger wake-up call to that issue of how can companies be more effective partners in society,” she said. “People are super alarmed here and there’s massive urgency. Business leaders were standing up saying, ‘we’ve not done this right and we need to change our businesses.’”

On Friday, the final day of the meetings, a group of CEOs from multinational companies including Ericsson, GlaxoSmithKline, and Mastercard announced a new effort called the Global Humanitarian Action Executive Alliance, which will formally launch at the U.N. General Assembly in September 2019, to support the U.N. in its effort to help people affected by humanitarian crises.

This follows meetings with the heads of a number of U.N. agencies here in Davos to explore models for private sector partnership, and builds on an announcement ahead of Davos that WEF, the World Bank, and the International Committee of the Red Cross are launching a new high-level group on humanitarian investing.

“The only way we’re going to solve the problem of hunger and insecurity is the private sector must engage in a way it has never engaged before,” David Beasley, executive director of the World Food Programme, said. “It can’t just engage philanthropically.”

Climate was not on the mainstream agenda to the extent it should have been, said Rachel Kyte, chief executive officer of Sustainable Energy for All, but she said progress was made behind the scenes.

Sustainable Energy for All CEO Rachel Kyte explains the significance of Davos for the climate movement

“When Davos works really well, you have different worlds coming into a small room together,” she said.

Kyte said she sat in meetings with leaders from the industry and energy sectors, as well as government representatives, creating a sense of momentum she can build upon.

Peter Thompson, U.N. Special Envoy for the Oceans, said he learns each year what messaging will resonate at Davos, and next year he plans to bring land into the conversation on oceans and climate.

When asked what real news on climate change had come out of the week’s meetings, Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, told Devex to “stay tuned.”

Sophie Edwards contributed reporting to this article.

About the author

  • Catherine Cheney

    Catherine Cheney is a Senior Reporter for Devex. She covers the West Coast of the U.S., focusing on the role of technology, innovation, and philanthropy in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. And she frequently represents Devex as a speaker and moderator. Prior to joining Devex, Catherine earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University, worked as a web producer for POLITICO and reporter for World Politics Review, and helped to launch NationSwell. Catherine has reported domestically and internationally for outlets including The Atlantic and the Washington Post. Outside of her own reporting, Catherine also supports other journalists to cover what is working, through her work with the Solutions Journalism Network.