02/04/2011 04:57 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

40 Interviews in Davos

Cross posted on Hub Culture.

For five days last week I was a fly on the wall in Davos, watching CEOs and leaders discuss the planet's major issues at the World Economic Forum. I attended the conference as a social media producer for Hub Culture, producing short video interviews. Hub Culture is a social network of "global urban influencers," and in Davos we occupied a building that served as a center for work, collaboration, and evening events.

At the Hub Culture Social Media Center we interviewed forty influential leaders. These five-minute interviews, conducted by our executive editor Edie Lush, let individuals share why they were at the World Economic Forum. CEOs of major corporations, directors of global non-profits, and other thought leaders sat in the Hub Culture "hot seat" and shared their concerns.

The following is an attempt to distill some of the major themes of these interviews. Obviously, the forty interviews don't fall neatly into the categories below, and many people touched on multiple themes in their few minutes. All of the links below lead to videos of the individuals; click to hear the full stories.

Did Davos Have a Theme?

Every World Economic Forum has a stated "theme," which sometimes relates to the actual theme of the conference. Last year, as the world was emerging from the global recession, the theme was "Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild." This year the theme was "Shared Norms for the New Reality," which made everyone scratch their head. What is the "new reality" of the world, and what are the norms?

The former Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, said he would rather state the goal as "shared values for common challenges." (Off camera he asked, "Who are these guys named Norm that we are sharing?") Rudd said that in the sessions he attended there was active debate over whether different countries of the world shared values or not. In one session the audience was split 50/50 on whether or not the West has common values with China with respect to global challenges.

Justin Blake, a managing director at Edelman, has now attended nine World Economic Forums, giving him a unique perspective. He said that this was the first Davos where there was no clear focus or theme, as if the world appears more splintered as it becomes more connected. Moreover, outside news--notably the chaos in Egypt--over shadowed any news from the conference.

Ian Bremmer, the President of the Eurasia Group, a firm that consults with businesses on political risk, expounded on what he thought was the "new reality." He said that we are seeing a new type of globalization as the emerging markets flex their muscles and no longer take orders from the western powers. His major concern is what he called the "G-0" (as opposed to the G-20)--the fact that there is no effective global governance. He cited the failures of climate and trade negotiations.

Some claimed that a major focus of this year's Forum was social inequality, which is on the rise in many parts of the world. Jasmine Whitbread, the CEO of Save the Children, felt that in previous years her comments on social inequity were ignored; this year she gained more attention.

The Way Workers Interact with the Economy has Fundamentally Changed

Malcom Frank, the Senior Vice President of Cognizant Technology Solutions, said that we are seeing the "future of work" because the generation now entering the workforce won't accept the rigid hierarchies common in corporations. Businesses will need to be more flexible. In the information age, work no longer has to be done "at work," but can be performed remotely and at any time.

This message was echoed by Jeffery Joerris, the CEO of Manpower, who even argued that we are no longer in the "Information Age," but instead in the "Human Age." In the "Human Age" (see article here), the focus is on individual talent instead of the corporation. He also remarked that companies have been reluctant to hire during this economic recovery because they've realized they can be just as productive with fewer people.

Arianna Huffington, the chief editor of the Huffington Post, talked about the explosion in unemployment, and how many in the United States' middle class have experienced "downward mobility" as individuals have dropped into poverty. She implored governments to do more.

Media and Social Media are Rapidly Changing

One career that has changed dramatically in the past few years is journalism. We talked with Mike Perlis, the President and CEO of Forbes. Perlis described how Forbes's online media has succeeded because it has adapted quickly to the changing ways that people consume information.

Likewise, Justin Blake of Edelman (mentioned earlier), said that a few years ago everyone was surprised when the first blogger showed up at the Forum. Forum meetings were supposed to be "off the record." Now, because of twitter and blogging, everything is shared and no one expects secrecy.

Robert Scoble, a Rackspace Innovation Journalist and blogger on the popular site, described how twitter gave him his own little news feed on the world, giving him updates every second. "It's like having a CNN news feed on my screen. I've always wanted that!"

The Global Gender Imbalance

A number of our interviews highlighted the need to empower women in business. Rachel Kyte, the Vice-President of the International Finance Corporation, told us that women run sixty percent of the world's small businesses, but in some countries only five percent of the bank credit is awarded to females. She also cited numerous studies revealing that companies do better if women are on the corporate boards.

Wendy Clark, the senior Vice President of Integrated Marketing and Communications for The Coca-Cola Company, talked about Coca-Cola's efforts to empower women franchise owners. Coca-Cola has a goal of empowering five million female entrepreneurs by 2020. Currently, many female entrepreneurs lack sufficient training, networks, or access to capital. Clark admitted that these efforts are good business practice for Coca-Cola, because small beverage outfits run by women tend to do better than those run by men.

Laura Liswood, the Secretary General of the Council of Women's Leaders, lamented the slow progress in getting women into corporate boardrooms. She also gave a cultural anecdote to explain why boardrooms ate still dominated by western males.

And while we did see female executives (Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo spent time at Hub Culture, and we also interviewed Beth Comstock, a senior Vice President of GE), Davos remains a mostly male affair. Only 16 percent of the roughly 2,500 fully accredited attendees were women.

Consumer Empowerment

We interviewed the heads of two organizations that are attempting to empower consumers. Joost Martens, the Director-General of Consumers International (a global umbrella organization that includes U.S.-based Consumer Reports), said that the world is becoming more globalized but there are not yet global standards for the quality and safety of products. His organization hopes to change that.

Dara O'Rouke, the founder of GoodGuide, described how his company researches the social and environmental impacts of various products and makes the information freely available. In the interview he showed us a new iPhone app that allows consumers to scan a product's barcode and get vital statistics about the social, health, or environmental consequences of the item.

Sustainability Has Become Popular and Profitable, But Will It Be Enough?

To promote collaboration and climate solutions, Hub Culture hosted Climate Deal Day during the World Economic Forum (watch a Wall Street Journal video about the event). Consequently, we interviewed many individuals concerned with climate and other environmental issues. These conversations gave us many reasons to be hopeful; the question is whether our solutions will be sufficient.

Peter Lacy, the Managing Director of Sustainability Services for Accenture, said that businesses now understand the importance of sustainability. In a global survey of CEOs, Accenture found that 93% of company leaders say that environmental sustainability is key to their long-term success. Just three years ago, this figure was twenty percent lower. Lacy also said that the challenge is no longer recognizing the issue, but instead figuring out how to embed sustainability in the companies. He then added that more organizations see sustainability as "an opportunity" instead of a burden or a risk.

We interviewed the founders of two companies who believe in this opportunity. Kevin Surace, the CEO of Serious Materials, spoke about the high tech windows and walls that his company has developed to improve building efficiency. Nearly all of his company's products have a payback time of less than two years, making them great investments for consumers. Likewise, Graham Andrews, the founder of Andrews Power, talked about his extremely high efficient air conditioners that dramatically reduce energy use.

The challenge is to get people to use these new technologies. Peggy Liu, the chairperson of JUCCCE (The Joint U.S-China Collaboration on Clean Energy), talked about the difficulties of getting knowledge to the right places. "There is no lack of interest to go green in China," said Liu. The problem is access to technology, and Liu announced an innovative new plan to allow Chinese investors and U.S. research institutions to cooperate and develop clean technology.

Dr. Han Seung-soo, the former Prime Minister of South Korea and the current Chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute, partially echoed Liu's ideas. Seung-soo's country developed rapidly in the past few decades, converting itself from a poor country to a rich one in less than half a century. Dr. Seung-soo said that the rest of the world can't develop in the same intensive way that South Korea did, and the Green Growth Institute will help developing nations grow their economies more sustainably.

Ian Cheshire, the Group Chief Executive for Kingfisher, Europe's leading home improvement store, talked in depth about his company's efforts to provide sustainable, efficient products for home owners and builders. We also spoke with Ann Davlin, the Director of Development for the Carbon War Room, who told of a number of other companies who are also stepping up and taking action.

One of Hub Culture's partners in Davos was the Renault-Nissan Alliance, which has developed the electric cars the Nissan Leaf and Renault Fluence. At Hub Culture we had two charging stations for these cars, and we spoke with a number of people involved in the marketing or design of these vehicles. Nissan's Head of Marketing, Simon Sproule, said that in 2011 the electric vehicle has finally come of age. Gilles Gautherot, the Communications Manager of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, told us that the real breakthrough has been making these cars "just like any other ordinary car, except much quieter." Jack Hidary, the Global Electric Vehicle Leader for Hertz, talked about making electric cars available through Hertz, and he described innovative new car sharing programs for electric cars. We felt we saw the future when Hidetushi Kadota, the Chief Engineer for the Nissan Leaf, walked us outside and proudly showed off his company's car.

Unfortunately, the environmental challenges that we face are acute. Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), said that the global agreement reached in Cancun last December was "A big step forward for the community of nations, but a small step for the planet." In other words, even though substantial progress was made, the progress still falls far short of what is needed to stop climate change. The Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naido, agreed, saying that "time is running out," and cited various scientific reports. Carl Ganter, the founder of Circle of Blue, a firm focused on freshwater issues, pointed out that water shortages could also limit our energy use. Finally, the President of the Environmental Defense Fund, Fred Krupp, talked about the dire state of the world's fisheries and his organization's efforts to change the way we fish.

A few of our interviews couldn't be lumped into these categories, but they provided important insights nonetheless.

Beth Comstock, General Electric's Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, talked about innovation around the world and her company's "Innovation Barometer."

Malini Mehra, the founder and CEO of the Centre for Social Markets, discussed the need to look at climate issues, food security, and water issues as an integrated set.

Johnathan Reckford, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity International, talked about providing micro financing to help people build homes around the world.

Simon Zadek, the founder of AccountAbility, talked about the challenge of taking ideas generated during meetings in Davos and then applying them.

Atsutoshi Nishida, the Chairman of Toshiba, talked about many issues related to innovation, and he also convinced us that we needed a 3D television.

Bernardo Guillamon, the Manager of the Office of Partnerships at the Inter-American Development Bank, talked about the bank's efforts to help Haiti and invest in education there.

Salil Shetty, the Secretary General of Amnesty International, explained how the growing power of corporations had changed his organization's strategy. Amnesty International has traditionally pressured governments to protect human rights. Now, as corporations become more powerful and more global, Amnesty International needs to increasingly engage with companies in order to protect the rights of people around the world.

As these interviews have shown, the world is a rapidly changing place. The way we work is changing, as is the way we consume media and interact. Although environmental challenges are getting much more attention, it is not yet clear if that attention will translate into sufficient action. Likewise, more are aware of the need for gender equality in business, but we need to move from awareness to action. The global community faces countless issues, and as many of these leaders said in these interviews, it will take much more than just talk to solve them.