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Davos and the rise of entrepreneurialism

Many industries have now entered a period of self-questioning. How do we ‘make’ a better world? How do we create a greater good? But what is this ‘new’ good that we might want and how have we got here?

Entrepreneur planting a tree
Glenn Baker

by
Glenn Baker

in Features

03.02.2020

Charles Stanley has commissioned a range of interdisciplinary contributors to consider these questions, including entrepreneurs, philanthropists, professional advisers and psychologists.  This thought-exercise, entitled ‘Creating the Greater Good: Serial and Social Entrepreneurialism’ (launching in Spring 2020), finds that although the sustainability of our world is central to current concerns, this is only half of the story - there is a problem with us and our vulnerability (and not just our planet).  Solutions for our modern world and modern lives are not necessarily coming from governments and corporate multinationals.  Rather, the basic human desire to create is driving solutions and disruptions on a scale that is unprecedented.  Entrepreneurs apply this creative desire to industries and economies, to help resolve and innovate within our ever-changing world.  

In this preliminary piece, I set the context to the debate, framing it within my own findings at Davos.

 

Davos 

The invitation appeared to be a mistake - I had been invited to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting, at Davos-Klosters, in January 2019.  I had been inputting into one of the Forum’s 14 System Initiatives on human capital and the shaping of a new narrative for societies.  I was part of a team trying to map out how to change consumption and materialistic fixations to a more idealistic, humanistic focus.  An ambitious exercise, at odds with late capitalism’s social and cultural foundations and direction of travel.  

I had been recruited because my doctorate had researched Renaissance humanism and, in part, the recovery of ancient Greek idealism.  The Forum had been interested in investigating transferable methodologies, especially those that might have completely re-shaped the West, as the Renaissance had.  The idea of rediscovering the past to help regenerate our world might seem romantic to us now.  And yet my team’s work around multidisciplinary approaches and cultural exchanges was important.  Especially in regard to the recovery of emotional intelligence as one of the key advancements in recent human evolution, which helps us to empathise with - and so better understand - our societies, ourselves and our planet.  Tracing and forecasting the growing role of social emotional intelligence was key to our work.  I checked with my team leader at the Forum and, sure enough, I was invited as a delegate to the Annual Meeting.  

The Forum is committed to improving the state of the world, and, while I attended, the language of uncertainty and fragility mirrored the anxieties that I had witnessed in other types of forums relating to sustainability and ESG. 

‘Transforming’ and ‘finding new ways’ were words constantly repeated at Davos.  And the key takeaway was cooperation - but of a type never seen before.  There may have been older, ‘common values’ shared around the world, but these, it was maintained, had shifted.  

Emerging instead were ‘competing narratives’ that sought to create a new ‘global architecture’.  What this meant was that advanced technologies from the physical, digital and biological worlds were combining to create innovations at a speed and scale not seen - less understood - in human history.  

These transformations are changing how individuals, companies and governments relate to each other and to the world within which they move and rely - rather problematically in regard to natural resources.  

 

Policy makers - but not necessarily innovators 

The big question: would the world stage accept these changes and work together to create new opportunities to sustain humankind?  Or would domestic, geopolitical, economic and environmental crises continue to hinder a collaborative, shared future?

Not easy to answer, typical of Davos.  Not least because governments and multinational corporations might set agendas and policies, but innovations that eventually become beacons of light tend to occur at the fringes. 

Yet every now and then at Davos there was the repeated mention of a promising breed of individual and social mindset.  One that, more than any other, was driving change with solutions (rather than with problems).  One that was creating innovations that were ‘good’ (albeit they were disruptive).  But this promising breed and mindset was not represented by governments.  Nor by traditional industries.  Entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurism (such as the drive towards increased connectivity/sharing what is available) were this beacon of light.  Given messianic status when discussed informally in groups.  But never given the formal stage.

 

Rediscovering our humanity 

In her recent book, Passions of our Time, the acclaimed intellectual Julia Kristeva urges us to rediscover the humanity in us and to recognise the driving force within us to create.  To reconnect with the world and reinvent ourselves would also, Kristeva argues, rebuild our psychic space - but founded on the importance of respecting human life. [i]  I found similar ambitions at Davos, and believe that the role of entrepreneurs (serial, social and otherwise) to be of critical importance in this.

 

Charles Stanley’s interdisciplinary series on entrepreneurialism will explore what entrepreneurs want to achieve for society as well as for themselves.  For theirs is not a selfish exercise: creative and social entrepreneurs (defined and discussed across the series) collaborate for the greater good.  What that greater good might be is of course debatable in the geopolitical landscape.  But the rising need of greater collaboration across companies and industries, and reappraising the good and the ethical within our society, feature heavily within this. 

If you would like to contribute to the debate, then please do get in touch, we would very much welcome hearing from you.

 

[i] Julia Kristeva, Passions of our Time, New York: Columbia University Press, 2018

 

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