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Global crises and digital innovation headline Davos. Yet, unless technology’s power is directed at our most pressing problems, we won’t feel the benefit.

4 mins read

At last week’s 2024 World Economic Forum, Chrissy Meier and I experienced the whirlwind of meetingspanels, and events all while navigating Davos’ infamously icy sidewalks. From climate change to artificial intelligence, this year’s conference highlighted both immense global challenges and promising opportunities. As I reflect on the week, here are a few of my key takeaways from Davos and what they could mean for us as a community – and world – going forward.

Inside the Congress Hall, priorities reflected pressing global crises and geopolitical strategy.

The polycrisis is beginning to feel like a permacrisis. It’s no secret that 2023 held its fair share of challenges, with worsening international conflict, intensifying climate disasters, and rising inequality. Compounding these realities is the widening gap between the haves and have nots. Oxfam’s Inequality Inc. report, which came out while many wealthy individuals were convening in Davos, tells us the wealth of 60% of people has fallen, whereas the net worth of the world’s five wealthiest men has more than doubled in the past four years. Today, we remain far from meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Without urgent action, these issues will persist – or worsen – to the detriment of people, society, and our planet.  

There is an expanding network of influencers within the geopolitical landscape. I was particularly struck by India’s prominence at Davos, with Maharashtra, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu each hosting pavilions – not to mention the outsized presence of CII, Wipro, and Infosys. With burgeoning technology and business sectors – and a population of over 1.4 billion people, – India has certainly portrayed its willingness and desire to step into a critical role on the world stage. And, considering its recent G20 presidency and successful digital development efforts, the country is well-positioned to do so. While the global crises are real, so, too, are the opportunities for partnership and collaboration.

Yet, outside on the Promenade, opportunities for positive digital transformation were everywhere.

Artificial intelligence is not simply the next tech fad. Unlike other tech trends – blockchain, crypto, etc. – that have presided over the Promenade in the past, artificial intelligence has gained consensus among experts as an unambiguously transformative technology. We are already witnessing the positive effects of this generative leap, from precision healthcare to smart energy management to financial security. Yet, to ensure that AI is relevant – and useful – to the global population, there was strong recognition that the “foundations” need to be in place more equitably around the world. Energy, connectivity, and DPI which supports inclusive digital economies are all needed if the benefits are to be evenly felt.   

 Artificial intelligence could be paving a way for a new model of people-centric data ownership. I was particularly struck by the energy and optimism I witnessed around digital wallets as a means of personal data curation. Imagine, for example, a personalized virtual storage space containing one’s money, credentials, and identity documents. Such an innovation would have the power to disrupt current business models in which consumers provide personal data in exchange for products/ads. And, if implemented correctly, digital wallets could help improve quality of life for people across the world. We already know that data is an invaluable asset. Giving individuals power over their own information could promote agency and choice for people as they interact with – and benefit from – digital tools and solutions.  

 Companies weren’t the only ones showcasing their digital progress. The Ukraine House was a powerful example of how technology infrastructure can solve real-world problems, even in time of war. With its Diia platform, the Ukrainian government provides over 120 public services digitally and allows citizens to access crucial documents – including digital passports. This service has proven critical for the millions of Ukrainians affected by the Russian invasion and provides an important reminder of technology’s potential to benefit people as they navigate real-world problems.

We sit at a critical crossroads. The power of technology can – and should – be harnessed for the public good, but we must bridge the Davos gap.

So, what can I conclude from the week? There are many conversations happening simultaneously, which offers an incredible snapshot of the priorities and issues that are front of mind for so many global actors. Yet, it seems to me that we’re missing out on a crucial opportunity. For true progress to be possible, the conversation inside the Congress Hall must include the innovators and problem solvers out on the Promenade. If we can direct the power of data and digital technology toward our most pressing social, economic, and environmental problems, I am optimistic that we can achieve a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable world.