Opinion: What the development community can expect from Davos

This year the World Economic Forum plays out against the backdrop of a rise of populism that has manifested most prominently in Donald Trump's election win and the Brexit vote. Photo by: Greg Beadle / World Economic Forum / CC BY-NC-SA

It is a feature of the importance of the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting — gathering again in the Swiss resort of Davos this week — that it perennially becomes drawn into the zeitgeist of the moment.  

This year all eyes are on the rise of populism in the rich world. The election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president, the Brexit vote in Britain, Marine Le Pen’s rise in France and the emergence of the Alternative for Germany party are all high-profile examples of the same global phenomenon. The 3,000 attendees at Davos — plus several times that number joining unofficial events and parties surrounding the event — are here, somewhat incongruously, in this lovely ski village to understand the populist tidal wave sweeping Europe and the U.S.

What is different this year is a sense that this gathering itself is not an objective observer of world events but a partisan on the losing side; that Davos is all about globalization, technological progress, and social inclusion at a time when so many people are demanding a different vision of their economies and their political future.

But what makes Davos important — particularly to the global development community — can easily be missed by immediate instinctual reactions to a big political event. So much of what the WEF represents is an attempt to contemplate and shape the future over the long run, to grapple with trends more powerful than a populist wave.

So as we begin our coverage of the World Economic Forum annual meeting, Devex will be looking out for all the big themes as they play out — some that are impacting our community today and others into the future. One of the most important themes is the changing politics around foreign aid.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will be in attendance and we'll be watching to see what she, her delegation and other insiders might say about protecting the U.K.’s 0.7 percent foreign aid target. It's come under enormous political pressure in the wake of Brexit and the prime minister recently suggested it could be reconsidered in the next Parliament come 2020. More immediately, we'll be watching for indications of how the May government might continue changing the U.K.'s foreign aid priorities, particularly in the direction of more private sector investment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is attending, the first such visit for a Chinese head of state. We'll be listening for indications of whether his desire to step into the global breach created by rising isolationism, especially in the United States, might entail new foreign aid commitments or initiatives. We'll also be talking with those in-the-know about how the recently launched Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is faring so far.

But not everything is politics and nation-states. There are several technological and business revolutions underway that could transform lives in the poorest communities, and we'll be covering progress in those areas. Since connectivity underpins them all, we'll be studying the latest initiatives to bring the internet everywhere, from satellites to drones to TV white spaces. We'll also be talking with banking and telecom executives to understand the state of play in financial inclusion via mobile banking and virtual currencies. And we'll be carefully analyzing digital health initiatives that seek to bring health services to low-resource settings without replicating the infrastructure of the rich world.

There is so much more of relevance to our community here, from discussions on climate change to agricultural innovation to a revolution in humanitarian aid, and we'll do our best to bring it all to you.

Our team, both on the snowy ground here and around the world, will be monitoring official announcements and social media to keep the Devex community up to date on all the global development news coming out of Davos.

You can stay in the loop by following us on Twitter and looking out for daily coverage in the Newswire. This Thursday's GDB newsletter will be dedicated to our Davos coverage and you can join us for an open Q&A on LinkedIn this Friday where we'll answer your questions about global development issues at Davos.

One more thing you can expect: As we meet NGO chiefs, social entrepreneurs and corporate responsibility leaders, we'll be sure to alert our community on Twitter and to share their thoughts with you. For those who aren't in the mountains of Davos this week, we'll do our best to make you feel like you're here. Not just because it's useful to keep your finger on the pulse, but also because much of what really matters in the future will be discussed here. In the end, the global adoption of a technology such as 3-D printing will have much more impact on the world than a presidential tweet and let's try to keep that in perspective.

Devex is reporting live at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Follow Devex Senior Correspondent Michael Igoe @alterigoe and stayed tuned to Devex for more coverage.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Raj Kumar

    Raj Kumar is the Founding President and Editor-in-Chief at Devex, the media platform for the global development community. He is a media leader and former humanitarian council chair for the World Economic Forum and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His work has led him to more than 50 countries, where he has had the honor to meet many of the aid workers and development professionals who make up the Devex community. He is the author of the book "The Business of Changing the World," a go-to primer on the ideas, people, and technology disrupting the aid industry.