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WEF 2022 Key Takeaways for Africa

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It’s a wrap from Davos

Back from a two-year hiatus, world leaders from government, business and civil society attended the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Usually held under a blanket of snow, this year’s event forced delegates to get on with it minus distractions of snow-related delays. Appropriately themed, History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategies, the conference was a reflective session of where the world is on its timelines and where it should be going regarding key issues brought on by climate change, the pandemic and war.

The effects of the covid-19 pandemic has forced the world to shift, accelerate and refocus and delegates discussed how to do this under the sub themes of:

The Earth is getting hotter, the ice is melting, the oceans are rising, and they’re filling up with plastic. We’re losing species, building up greenhouse gases, and running out of time as climate-related disasters like floods and heatwaves disrupt lives and displace communities. Over 3.5 half billion people are highly vulnerable to climate impact. And yet ‘sustainability’ is now being applied to every area of human activity — energy, food, clothing, travel, cities — you name it. But even if everything was 100% sustainable there’d still be work to do to repair the damage. And how should we accelerate climate action, manage a shift away from fossil fuels and ensure the world doesn’t go hungry in a newly challenging geopolitical and economic environment? This is a critical leadership challenge.

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Since World War II, average life expectancy across the globe has risen by 30 years. Meanwhile, access to healthcare and education has lifted billions out of poverty. But wealth inequality within many nations has soared, social mobility reversed, and cohesion undermined. Now there are fears new technology will make things worse. How do we reshape economies so that growth benefits the many and not just the few and so ensure that the extraordinary engine of human development we built is made sustainable?

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New technology is always disruptive. It kills jobs, creates new ones, and ushers in profound social change. But the breakneck speed and sheer scale of this round of technical change is something else – it threatens the very definition of what it is to be human. We’re being presented with a huge range of ethical dilemmas. How do we get together to agree the rules on things like genetically modified babies, the robots of war, and the algorithms that determine our life chances? Should we just slow things down a bit?

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Anyone with internet access can download the course material for a Harvard degree, take part in the ‘gig economy’ or do an office job from home. That’s a profound and very recent change. The pandemic put the focus on how those technologies that were disrupting our economic and social lives also helped us to adapt. But history suggests that if we leave it to the market, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will usher in a long and damaging period of dislocation. We can see it coming, we know we’re going to have to reskill, so what are we going to do about it and how are businesses and industries going to manage the change?

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The response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Europe and the unprecedented financial and economic penalties against Russia have marked a watershed moment for business. The private sector is deeply enmeshed in the geopolitical context, working actively to resolve the economic fallout, meet humanitarian needs and resolve mounting pressure on global energy and food security. Corporate responsibility is changing. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards and metrics are more needed than ever as companies measure up to global challenges – including following through on the net-zero commitments that are more urgent than ever.

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Global healthcare spending has increased dramatically over the past decade with medical innovation giving us a COVID-19 vaccine in under a year. Precision medicine is offering sophisticated solutions while telehealth is changing healthcare delivery and improving access. But loneliness, workplace stress, grief, depression and anxiety have been exacerbated by the pandemic and the diversion of resources away from other global health crises like cancer has been described as a second ‘hidden pandemic’. Women’s health is persistently neglected and as societies grow older, how are communities ageing healthily and who is responsible for the burden of care? And how do we solve these major healthcare challenges while ensuring fair access for all?

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The 2020s started with the promise of ‘a decade of action’ for people and planet. There was a focus on embedding sustainability and inclusion into our economies, tech for good, reducing inequality and closing the gap between advanced and developing economies. But the past two years have seen the world ravaged by a global pandemic. That has been followed by the shock of a still unfolding violent conflict and humanitarian catastrophe, and the fall-out on energy, food and economies with repercussions for poverty, inequality and political instability. These crises have also seen unprecedented cooperation, within and between sectors and countries, and outcomes that may have been unimaginable at the start of the decade. How do we harness that momentum to move from fragmentation to global collaboration so that trade continues to drive progress and the collective global challenges remain within reach?

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The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated pre-existing inequalities but heightened visibility of deep-rooted bias. From the systemic oppression of people of colour to a widening gender gap, the need to address social injustice has been more urgent than ever. The war in Ukraine has compounded the challenge, as societies struggle to address Europe’s humanitarian crisis and the plight of refugees globally has taken centre stage. How do we develop solutions, aimed at benefiting people of all ages, generations, gender identities and expressions, sexual orientations, levels of health, races, ethnicities, indigenous identities, castes, nationalities and national origins, immigration status, religions and socioeconomic status?

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AFRICA.COM’s senior news editor selected the six most important Africa-related highlights:

1

WEF President and Standard Bank CEO talk climate change and ESG

Live from Davos, Africa.com’s Teresa Clarke had the opportunity to speak with Borge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum and Sim Tshabalala CEO of Standard Bank on how Africa’s governments and largest companies can create resilient economies that can withstand the effects of climate change and drive the environmental, society and governance agenda on the continent.

2

Experts from Standard Bank weigh in on sessions about climate change

The burning topics around climate and nature discussed at the forum have endorsed the Standard Bank group’s firm direction as a key private sector player in supporting climate transitions and the national climate commitments of the countries where they conduct business. Its Climate Policy provides a map of how it aims to use innovation to reach net zero across its group operations for newly built facilities in time for the global deadline of 2030.The group has also made sustainable finance commitments with a focus on renewable energy projects across Africa.

3

Growing Intra-Africa Trade through digital transformation of customs and borders

Programmes that may have been an afterthought in the past: such as the role of digitization in various sectors of government and business were brought to the fore this time round. The World Economic Forum convened Friends of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, a group of heads of state and business leaders, which advanced a framework on how public-private partnerships can support the implementation of the AfCFTA and some of the key takeaways include:

  • Inefficient border and customs processes in Africa remain a significant concern and may result in some countries being unable to realize the full benefits of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area
  • Reduction of non-tariff barriers (including border and customs administration) could lead to trade gains in Africa of $20 billion a year, compared to the $3.6 billion that could be achieved by the elimination of tariffs alone
  • New report calls for public-private partnerships to drive more integrated digital reforms

4

Africa’s leading role in the conversation

Unlike forums of the past, Africa came in confident about solutions that it needs. The forum took place at the same time as Africa Day on 25 May under the theme on the importance of addressing malnutrition and food insecurity. Rwanda joined the Food Action Alliance for driving food systems transformation. The country is now part of a growing group of first-mover countries. The new partnership will harness innovation to accelerate country goals on food security and nutrition, inclusive growth, sustainability and climate resilience, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

5

Africa and the future of work

The Reskilling Revolution initiative, launched at the Annual Meeting in 2020, has now mobilized a community of over 50 CEOs, 350 organizations and 15 countries all working towards a vision of giving 1 billion people better education, reskilling and upskilling. With the youngest population in the world, Africa is also at a turning point and is poised to take advantage of recommendations from the forum. A network of country accelerators in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Georgia, Greece, India, Oman, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, with support from Denmark, Finland, Singapore and Switzerland, and a consortium of the largest online learning platforms are working together. A new report from the project,Catalysing Education 4.0 Investing in the Future of Learning for a Human-Centric Recovery,finds that investment in the skills of the future for primary and secondary school learners would create an additional $179 billion in sub-Saharan Africa. The report, developed with support from the LEGO Foundation and in consultation with leading education experts from the public, private and educational sectors.

6

Addressing vaccine equity for Africa

And finally, an Accord for a Healthier World was launched at Davos by Pfizer, providing all its current and future patent-protected medicines and vaccines available in the US or EU on a not-for-profit basis to 45 lower-income countries. Pfizer called on global health leaders and organizations to join the accord, bringing their expertise and resources to close the health equity gap and help create a healthier world for 1.2 billion people. Rwanda, Ghana, Malawi, Senegal and Uganda are the first five countries to commit to join the accord. Health officials in these countries will help identify and resolve hurdles beyond supply to inform the roll-out in all 45 lower-income countries.

Speakers: Alem Tedeneke, Lazarus Chakwera, Angela Hwang, Albert Bourla, Paul Kagame, Bill Gates

Bonus

A few familiar faces:

Teresa Clarke, Chair & CEO at Africa.com, Aminata Kane Ndiaye, CEO at Orange Sierra Leone, “Tolu” Oni, a WEF Young Global Leader, Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, Author & Africa Agriculture Expert, and Sokhu Sibiya, Senior News Editor at Africa.com