Simon Maxwell

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I attended Davos principally as Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Humanitarian Assistance, but also pursued interests in climate, business/development linkages and development more generally. I must say ‘my’ Davos is very different to that of those who focus mainly on global economic and financial questions: no more or less valid, but a reminder that there are many Davos pathways.

I was flat out all week, but did not attend any public sessions, except for those I moderated or spoke at. In addition to lots of private meetings and briefings, key engagements included:

  1. Being a table leader at the big opening plenary on Redefining the Global Commons;
  2. Moderating a session on humanitarian issues in the main public programme;
  3. Helping to lead a meeting hosted by WFPWorld Food Programme on nutrition;
  4. Presenting the work of the Global Agenda Council in the IdeasLab;
  5. Speaking at the annual WFPWorld Food Programme dinner, devoted this year mainly to Haiti;
  6. Attending a working lunch on practical ways forward after Copenhagen;
  7. Attending a dinner on carbon capture and storage;
  8. Moderating a two and a half hour workshop for political and business leaders on new Models of Collaboration for Economic Development; and
  9. Speaking as one of three rapporteurs at the final plenary round up on the agenda for 2010.

Haiti and humanitarian issues

Haiti catapulted ‘our’ agenda into the front line. Having worked hard to raise the profile of humanitarian issues and secure a session in the public programme, we were then very nearly overtaken by the additional Haiti events dropped into the programme: agency heads just back from Port au Prince providing briefings, Bill Clinton launching a big initiative, Paul Collier talking about reconstruction, and new business partnerships being launched. The WEF needed to be visible on Haiti for political reasons, but also showed real commitment: the staff raised about £60k, handed over to Josette Sheeran at the WFPWorld Food Programme dinner.

(A digression on emotional styles. The North American who handed over the cheque announced the total (actually 100,000 Swiss Francs) and then said ‘You know, I was putting my young son to bed and telling him about the crisis in Haiti, and he got out of bed in the dark and scrabbled around on his desk and came back with something, and said ‘this is for the people of Haiti’, so Josette, this evening I am able to hand over to you 100,000 Swiss Francs – and 1.’ A personal connection, and moving, especially when we had just been told about the WFPWorld Food Programme staff member in Haiti whose house collapsed, whose child was killed, who buried his child in the garden, and two hours later was on the front line for WFP, trying to manage food hand-outs. I read Drew Western’s The Political Brain over Christmas and have been using it a lot. Leadership and communication need both facts and emotions, Mr Spock as well as Homer Simpson.)

The stories from Haiti were chilling and draining, but also absolutely confirmed the importance of our Council’s call for more investment in prevention and preparedness. Thanks to staff work by Olivia Bessat at the WEF, we were able to negotiate distribution of our Challenge Paper calling for a new business model for humanitarian relief (available online here) and also of our two pager on local tri-sector partnerships from the meeting of the Global Agenda Council in Dubai (Pg 116ff of a document available here). I was able to present the new model in an IdeasLab session (video available ) and use it to shape discussion at the public session (the full one hour video is on Youtube , and is worth watching for the contributions of the panellists and a high-quality audience).

Some key points, both Haiti and more general:

A sense that the relief effort in Haiti is ‘getting there’, under extremely difficult conditions. The cluster system of donor coordination is working. Supply chains are being established. Government is beginning to function (though meeting under trees because there are no offices, and struggling with impossible communications and huge personal stress).

Urban disasters present special problems, especially in the capital city. Water and fuel are in very short supply, people can’t cook, so distributing dry rations is no good. There is a big international search on for ready to eat meals, high density biscuits and so on. Lots of business partnerships in that area, of course (chick pea-based in India, coconut-based in the Philippines, Unilever are leading work to create an international directory of recipes and resources). Land records have been destroyed, which hampers rebuilding plans. Security is a big issue (Josette Sheeran said that when they distribute food to orphanages, gangs wait round the corner and stage a raid as soon as they have gone). There is a shortage of tents, but tents will not withstand hurricanes, so more robust shelter is needed before this summer’s hurricane season.

Markets are vital and are already operating (much of Haiti is unaffected, remember). Cash is in short supply, though: people have lost savings under the rubble; banks are just beginning to operate but don’t have physical cash so can’t e.g. distribute money sent from abroad; many people’s livelihoods have disappeared. UNDPUnited Nations Development Programme is starting a big cash for work programme. WFPWorld Food Programme is doing something with vouchers. FAOFood and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations is leading work to support agriculture and rural employment, including for refugees from Port au Prince.

‘Building back better’ means new building codes and supporting institutions, but also working with local people and organisations. Clinton and Collier trying to attract businesses to create jobs in the long term.

Of course, prevention and preparedness are key, especially at local level. I learned that in Japan, 1 September is disaster preparedness day. Especially since the Kobe earthquake, everyone has a tin box containing essentials they can grab in an instant, and they practise all the time. We discussed making 1 September an international event: people all over the world running exercises.

Private sector partnerships can play a big part, especially if embedded locally.

In terms of next steps, our Council will continue to pursue its ideas, we hope starting in South East Asia. We will connect up with other Councils, especially those on systemic risk and catastrophe. There will be a discussion of our proposals at a public meeting in ODIOverseas Development Institute (London) later in February (see here).

Business and development

Public-private partnerships are a Davos staple, and are everywhere – humanitarian, agriculture, health, financial inclusion, education, nutrition, mining, energy. I’ve reported in other years on some very strong examples, from the philanthropic (e.g. TNT supporting WFP) to the more commercial (e.g. seed and fertiliser companies in agriculture). I was struck over and over again by how useful the ODIOverseas Development Institute (London) material is in this area, including the outcome of the meetings series last year.

The session I was asked to moderate was in the Davos Workspace, a workshop venue run by a specialised team, in which participants are asked to discuss in plenary, but also to work in groups on case studies. There is lots of specialised technology, people move around a lot, findings are summarised by artists on big whiteboards, music is played to mark breaks in sessions, and the moderator is charged with injecting energy and focus and holding all this together. There were more than sixty participants, including two Asian foreign ministers, one African deputy prime minister, several Ministers from developed and developing countries, at least three UN Agency Heads, and the chief executives of a raft of household name companies. I think it is fair to say that some found it easier to adjust to this work-style than others. Some loved it and some – well, a couple had urgent calls from their Prime Ministers and regretfully had to leave.

The case study, which I contributed to but did not write, was about scaling up. In ‘Grolandia’, in 2010, there were good but isolated examples of business-development linkages. Now, in 2015, isn’t it amazing what a transformation there has been? How did we do that? Local partnerships key, using chambers of commerce and similar. Regulatory environment needs to be sympathetic. Companies need to work out when to collaborate and when to protect their USP. Systemic links need to be sought across sectors. There will be a write-up, which I will circulate.

One challenge in Davos is to set the start-line at the right level of detail, and to make sure there is enough intellectual preparation. Sometimes, sessions start too far back, with generalised expressions of concern about world poverty or whatever. I’m always keen to set the ‘exam question’ in a way which avoids this. In this case, we focused on public-private partnerships in general, and I talked about my four-step ladder of business engagement (see here). Of course, this is quite crowded territory – Jane Nelson from Harvard was at the session, Adam Leach from IBLF was in Davos, so was Aron Cramer of Business for Social Responsibility, Simon Zadek from Accountability, many others.

Climate and development

I had climate and development on my radar, because of the role I am about to assume with the new Climate and Development Network. My friends at the WEF invited me to a private lunch on post-Copenhagen strategies, and to a dinner on carbon capture and storage, and in addition, I was able to have a quick coffee with Yvo de Boer, and chats with several others, including Sir David King, Connie Hedegaard (the new EUEuropean Union Commissioner), Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, and lots of others. The WEF people themselves are really good, by the way, especially Dominic Waughray and Andrew Hagan. Brindusa Fidanza is another key contact there

There were a few interesting points:

  1. Interesting to hear many people talking positively about the Copenhagen Accord at the climate lunch, as a good political platform. I think Yvo de Boer is on record as saying this. The US, of course, also the Chinese. Lots of talk about building on the 2 degree commitment and the engagement of the BASIC countries. High hopes vested in the MEF (Major Economies Forum) and in the High Level panel on finance. One minister whispered ‘panglossian’ in my ear. Not many NGOs available at that event to argue the Copenhagen catastrophe case.
  2. The whole question of how to manage negotiations is a really hot topic. Is the right strategy to pursue the Kyoto process or to bypass it? At the climate change lunch, the second strategy seemed to be preferred – break the negotiations down, by-pass the geopolitics, build on what we have, demonstrate the value of specific initiatives in deforestation or energy, create momentum but also create competition which challenges the current process. I was slightly taken aback by this, I must say, given my passion for integrated multilateral processes, and the training I received from trade colleagues at ODIOverseas Development Institute (London) that ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. It is urgent that the question be theorised. David Victor from the University of California, who works on this, was at my table, and I also talked about the issue with Robert Lawrence from the Kennedy School. I remembered that I had read Lakoff’s book , ‘Don’t think of an elephant’, which talks about taking one step over the precipice which makes further change inevitable, and also that I very much admired Senator George Mitchell’s work in Northern Ireland (the Government takes one small step, then the IRA, then the Government takes another step, then the IRA, and so on): incremental agreement.
  3. My obsession for the new climate network is to work with leaders on medium term transformation strategies. This was the focus of the proposal, reinforced for me by going to Vietnam before Christmas, where all the talk is of flooding in the Mekong, none about how to sustain manufacturing growth of 11% when the country already produces 2t of carbon (the 2050 limit) per capita. I picked up some very useful materials from Kristel van der Elst, who runs the WEF scenario planning team, and also talked about this to people from INSEAD, McKinsey etc . . .
  4. The domestic politics is also fascinating, and something I have been writing about this past year (see here). At the CCS dinner, part of the discussion was about how to manage coal interests. A quick anecdote: a US congressman, Ed Markey (now Chair of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming) described how Jimmy Carter had cut funding for solar and wind, so, as a young Congressman, he had sponsored an amendment to restore it. An alliance of coal and nuclear defeated the amendment and proposed a counter-amendment to fund nuclear. He defeated that. They then cut a deal to introduce a new amendment to fund both renewable and nuclear, which passed successfully. How good an illustration of a certain kind of US politics at work, and how different to e.g. the way Mrs Thatcher (for entirely different reasons of course) set about destroying the influence of the miners in the UK.
  5. The CCS debate illustrated big divides in climate policy. On the one hand, Achim Steiner – this is expensive, risky, and not half as promising as bio-sequestration. On the other hand, a line up of industry enthusiasts - pointing to China and India’s coal expansion and arguing that CCS must account for 10% of all carbon reduction by 2020 and 20% by 2050. More CO2 will have to be transported around the US in pipelines than total current oil (or something of that order, in other words, very large volumes). WWF, interestingly, support CCS.


Other issues (a selection!)

Global risks. This was the main topic at the opening and closing plenaries, both chaired by Nik Gowing. Some interesting technology for managing big discussions and building ideas, around the main themes of rethink, redesign and rebuild. Video webcasts can be seen here for the first session (I come in at minute 66, talking about the four ‘lacks’ in global governance) and here for the second (minute 90, summarising the lessons of the week under the headings of ‘why’, what’ and ‘how’).

Bankers. The main topic at Davos for many. I attended a private breakfast meeting. The general feeling was that the politics of bonuses was getting in the way of serious regulatory reform. I was a bit surprised that there was not more discussion of the alleged $850 bn cost of the bail-out (this is an NAO figure), especially the impact on public expenditure.  I was told by a couple of people I spoke to that this figure was misleading and that the true cost of the bail-out was under £100bn. Worth being clear about that, I would say.

Finally, the final black tie Gala was hosted by South Africa, the usual extravaganza of music, food, wine and entertainment, spiced by the evident emotion and pride of the South African participants, many of whom were in tears. ‘I’m just so proud of my country’ said one. It is fun to speculate about a British Gala evening. The South Africans started with a moving introduction by Trevor Manuel and brought singers, dancers, some extraordinary puppets and film of animals playing football. We could start with a dour warning about the state of the public finances, perhaps broadcast the latest episode of the Archers, and then settle down to a nice game of Scrabble. At least we would be in bed at a reasonable time.

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