Tag archives for leaders

Davos: Back to the Future

Parag Kanna has a fascinating thesis on what the Davos conference is. Davos, for the unfamiliar, “where each January the planet’s most influential heads of state, CEOs, mayors, religious leaders, NGO heads, university presidents, celebrities and artists flock for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF), an event that over the past four decades has established itself as what “60 Minutes” last year dubbed “the most important meeting on Earth.”” But more than a meeting, Davos represents a new paradigm for diplomacy, taking place outside of the conventional structure of Nation-States dating back to the treaty of Westphalia. And it’s not just a new paradigm, it’s a better one.

Compared to the modern inter-state diplomatic system, Davos represents anti-diplomacy—and yet it actually reflects the true parameters of global diplomacy today better than the United Nations. The reason is that in our ever more complex diplomatic eco-system, relations among governments represent only one slice of the total picture. Beyond the traditional “public-public” relations of embassies and multilateraism, there are also the “public-private” partnerships sprouting across sectors and issues. Qatar’s natural gas fortunes hinge on its arrangement with Exxon, India’s ability to attract foreign investment is contingent on support from the business magnates who make up the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), and the alliance of the Gates Foundation, pharmaceutical company Merck, and the government of Botswana saved the country’s population from being wiped out by AIDS, to name just a few of the now literally countless such arrangements flourishing today. The third and often neglected dimension of the new diplomacy is “private-private” interactions which circumvent the state altogether. Think of the Environmental Defense Fund dealing directly with Wal-Mart to cut the company’s overall emissions by 20 million metric tons and install solar panels at 30 new locations. The diplomats at Cancun could only dream of such concrete measures.

All three of these combinations of negotiating partners thrive at Davos and in all WEF activities, which range from mini-Davos-style regional conferences to year-round multi-stakeholder initiatives in public health, climate change, anti-corruption and other areas. The WEF does what no U.N. agency would ever do: allow “coalitions of the willing” to organically “grow and go”—incubating them but also quickly spinning them off into self-sustaining entities; but importantly also letting projects die that fail to attain sufficient support from participants. In this sense the WEF is both a space for convening but also a driver of new agendas.

Absolutely fascinating, the idea that an alliance of the super-wealthy, and professional activists could make a difference on the world more effectively than traditional governments. The end of the nation-state is something that we’ve seen before, along with the rise of a new global elite, but Ranna puts an interesting spin on it, hearkening back to the Middle Ages when a variety of actors could influence global diplomacy, not just people bearing the seals of powerful nations. This is more than anarchy or oligarchy, this is the return of an ancient and resilient system of governance. We can only hope that they have some way of implementing wise decisions, and not just imposing choices for personal benefit from the top down.

John Robb is far less sanguine, and in typically vituperative fashion,

“[Davos] is a collection of elites generated by the antiquated, hierarchical systems of the 20th Century — akin to a collection of corrupted inebriated noblemen from depleted, inbred bloodlines discussing the future of war, peace, and prosperity during the post fox-hunt feast.”

Well, yes, and it’s certainly not democratic nor accountable. But if Davos is where the action really is, then we need to be paying attention. And this new ruling class is a minimum, more egalitarian and less concerned with holding power forever than the ones that have come before.

Kanna does make one critical point, and I’ll leave it in his words:

Global governance is not a thing, not a collection of formal institutions, not even a set of treaties. It is a process involving a far wider range of actors than have ever been party to global negotiations before. The sooner we look for new meta-scripts for regulating transnational activities and harnessing global resources to tackle local problems the better. Davos continues to be a good place to start.

Amen. Global governance starts with all of us.

Plutocracy Now

“As F. Scott Fitzgerald famously noted, different from you and me. What is more relevant to our times, though, is that the rich of today are also different from the rich of yesterday. Our light-speed, globally connected economy has led to the rise of a new super-elite that consists, to a notable degree, of first- and second-generation wealth. Its members are hardworking, highly educated, jet-setting meritocrats who feel they are the deserving winners of a tough, worldwide economic competition—and many of them, as a result, have an ambivalent attitude toward those of us who didn’t succeed so spectacularly. Perhaps most noteworthy, they are becoming a transglobal community of peers who have more in common with one another than with their countrymen back home. Whether they maintain primary residences in New York or Hong Kong, Moscow or Mumbai, today’s super-rich are increasingly a nation unto themselves.”

Read the rest at the Atlantic.

Since World War 2, the world has become immensely more wealthy, but that wealth has not been evenly distributed. In the first world, top industrialists and financiers have benefited the most, while in the third world, those with access to modern communication technology have far outpaced their countrymen. Even in the depths of the economic crises, these new rich have continued to become richer, even as others have stagnated or fallen behind. With money comes power, but the new plutocracy does not care about nations or class or origins. What they value are ideas and innovation, and some of them care deeply about social issues. Bill Gates, George Soros, and Warren Buffett, to give some examples, have donated billions of dollars to cure diseases, extend freedom, and improve access to the technologies that are a prerequisite for becoming a member of this new class. This combination of wealth and activism is necessary for us to Prevail in the future. The alternative is unimaginably worse.

Jimmy Wales on Leadership

Wikipedia’s Jimmy Wales talks about leadership at the Washington Post. Wikipedia is an example of the internet at it’s best. From the contribution of volunteers, and small infrastructure technological infrastructure, Wikipedia has become the first source of information on the internet. And while it’s the bane of educators everywhere, it is of astonishing breath and accuracy. Wikipedia’s magic is in its volunteers: It pools the knowledge of anonymous experts, and consensus leads to both factually correct information defended by the majority, the incorporation of divergent points of view.

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For all their anarchy, bottom-up groups still need guidance, and Wales has been described as a new type of leader, the opposite of the command control style used by government, the military, and business. His secret is the same studied neutrality that wikipedia used to sort truth. Rather than making hard decisions, the Wales style is to inspire volunteers and keep everyone aware of Wikipedia’s strategic goals. People who work for free, outside of the market system, still need to be rewarded for their efforts, and exciting ideas are the currency of tomorrow. Just contributing to the sum total of human knowledge, to the Library of Alexandria for the 21st century, is enough to bring together billions of human-hours, in a great endeavor.