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Davos provides a showcase for impact investment progress

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By Ilkay Demirdag

· 10 min read

The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos took place between January 15th and 19th. The theme of the forum was “Rebuilding Trust Amid Uncertainty.” 

Close to 3,000 policymakers, business executives, international organization and civil society leaders, academics, and innovators from around the world came together for the 54th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum to rebuild a basis of trust, generate new ideas and develop partnerships that can improve outcomes for people, economies, and the planet.

The forum focused on answering crucial questions to build a more resilient future through four key interconnected themes:

  • Achieving security and cooperation in a fractured world

  • Creating growth and jobs for a new era

  • Artificial intelligence as a driving force for the economy and society

  • A long-term strategy for climate, nature, and energy

Key themes of WEF24 

Achieving security and cooperation in a fractured world

This topic was very important on the WEF24 agenda. Davos 2024 emphasized the urgent need to rebuild trust amid increasing geopolitical divides. Discussions were held on promoting peacebuilding, fostering global cooperation, tackling social and economic inequalities, strengthening global health systems, and building resilient food systems to address the challenges of war and growing economic disparities.

Some of the most prominent initiatives on trust, cooperation, and security that took center stage at Davos include:

  • The Forum’s new Global Cooperation Barometer showed that global cooperation has been resilient for much of the past decade, particularly in the areas of trade and capital, innovation and technology, and climate and natural capital, but has been pulled down by a sharp decline in cooperation on peace and security. A new white paper offered diverse ideas on what global cooperation can look like in a fragmenting world.

  • The World Economic Forum launched the Global Foresight Network to support a global community of practice across public and private sectors to serve as an incubator to advance future preparedness.

Creating growth and jobs for a new era

Discussions at Davos 2024 underscored the necessity of a novel growth paradigm that harmonizes economic imperatives with innovation, inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience. The swift evolution of technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), and automation has sparked apprehensions regarding job displacement and ethical ramifications. 

Dialogues at the World Economic Forum delved into strategies for leveraging technology for positive outcomes, fostering inclusive economic expansion, and ensuring equitable transitions for all. Participants articulated the need for a fresh growth framework—one that strikes a balance between traditional growth drivers and productivity while navigating the intricacies of innovation, inclusivity, sustainability, and resilience.

Some of the most prominent initiatives on economic growth and trade include:

  • The Future of Growth Initiative is a two-year campaign to help policy-makers and economists exchange new ideas and best practices for achieving this balance, supported by the Future of Growth Report 2024 which presents a multidimensional framework to balance GDP with innovation, resilience, sustainability, and inclusion.

  • The TradeTech Global Initiative outlined a vision for collaborative use of technology for global commerce to unlock trillions in trade, ahead of a major Trade Tech Forum alongside the WTO global ministerial in February 2024.

  • More than 20 trade, finance, and environment ministers came together through the Coalition of Trade Ministers on Climate to identify a common agenda for sustainable growth within and across economies. Fifteen investment promotion agency heads representing 1.8 billion citizens called for a Climate FDI Coalition to help investment agencies channel climate finance commitments into tangible domestic green growth projects.

Artificial intelligence as a driving force for the economy and society

Additionally, discussions at Davos 2024 included emerging technologies, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), and raised concerns about balancing benefits with security, privacy, and inclusivity challenges. Acknowledging the significance of AI for the future, the sessions discussed ways to integrate this revolutionary technology with other transformative technologies, like 5G, 6G, quantum computing, biotechnology, and others, to make it beneficial for all. Discussions highlighted the need for robust frameworks and regulations to mitigate risks and promote responsible AI development and usage in various sectors.

Initiatives on AI and its governance include:

  • The AI Governance Alliance announced a new global effort to increase AI access by improving data quality and availability across nations, boosting access to computational resources, and adapting foundation models to suit local needs and challenges, releasing three papers on tackling AI governance challenges and shaping responsible and inclusive practices.

  • The Schwab Foundation’s Global Alliance launched its Artificial Intelligence for Social Innovation Initiative to allow faster and more responsible adoption of AI for impact, especially in the Global South.

A long-term strategy for climate, nature, and energy

As we reflect on the outcomes of the 2024 World Economic Forum, one pivotal insight stands out: the imperative to address environmental risks. The Forum's Global Risks Report for 2024 underscores that environmental hazards constitute half of the top 10 risks anticipated over the next decade. Among these risks, extreme weather events, critical alterations to Earth's systems, biodiversity decline, and ecosystem collapse loom large, demanding urgent attention and proactive measures from global leaders and stakeholders.

Moreover, projections suggest that by 2050, the global economy will have doubled in magnitude, catering to a population exceeding 10 billion individuals. In the face of this unprecedented growth, enhancing energy efficiency emerges as a linchpin for crafting an affordable, secure, and climate-resilient future. This underscores the pressing need for innovative approaches and concerted action to recalibrate existing systems and practices towards sustainability and resilience.

Throughout the discourse at WEF2024, several key themes emerged, shaping discussions and charting pathways forward:

  • Mainstreaming Ecopreneurs: The rise of ecopreneurs, armed with innovative solutions to combat environmental challenges, took center stage. From expediting decarbonization efforts to championing nature-based solutions and combating plastic pollution, ecopreneurs showcased the potential for transformative change. Central to these endeavors is the question of financing early-stage innovations, prompting explorations into novel funding mechanisms and investment models.

  • Harnessing Digital Solutions for Climate Adaptation: The convergence of technology and sustainability found prominence as discussions delved into leveraging digital solutions for climate adaptation. Mission-critical applications, empowered by artificial intelligence, emerged as powerful tools for early warning systems, supply chain optimization, agricultural forecasting, and more. The discourse underscored the pivotal role of digitization in advancing sustainability objectives and accelerating the transition to a greener economy.

  • Recognizing Climate Crises as Health Crises: A paradigm shift in understanding the interplay between climate crises and public health emerged, signaling the need for integrated approaches to mitigate health impacts. The convergence of approaches, evidence, and data was emphasized as essential in safeguarding public health amidst the challenges posed by climate change.

  • Systematic Response is Needed: Leaders are increasingly called upon to transform the current growth and development models to better steward the global commons and serve humanity.

Climate-related initiatives rose to prominence at Davos 2024 with over 14 initiatives. Some of the most prominent programs include:

  • The First Movers Coalition for Industry expanded to almost 100 companies, providing demand for breakthrough climate technologies.

  • The First Movers Coalition for Food has launched with 30 partners to aggregate procurement demand for low-emission agricultural commodities and speed up the adoption of sustainable farming, innovations, and transitional funding.

  • The platform announced over 100 companies pledging to conserve, restore, and grow 12 billion trees.

  • Network to Mobilize Clean Energy Investment for the Global South launched to provide a platform for developing economies to raise awareness about their clean energy needs.

Davos provides a showcase for impact investment progress

Over the course of the WEF24, the Forum and its partners launched or advanced more than 50 high-impact initiatives, serving as ongoing platforms for multi-year collaboration across geographies and industries.

  • The Humanitarian and Resilience Investing initiative announced over 50 commitments that will boost impact investment and could unlock over $15 billion, with new collaborations driving purpose-driven investment in frontier markets.

  • The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders stepped up efforts to reduce Scope 3 emissions, and underscored 10 high-impact measures for governments and businesses in its annual report.

  • UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation platform, announced that it has raised CHF 37 million (USD 43 million) in funding through to 2027 to help early-stage impact entrepreneurs scale their people- and planet-focused ventures.

  • The EDISON Alliance announced it has improved the lives of 784 million people through 320 initiatives across 127 countries on affordable and accessible digital solutions in education, financial services, and healthcare, reaching 78% towards its 2025 target of improving a billion lives. 

Top tier impact panels in Davos illuminate pathways for energy transition and responsible investing

I try to bring impact investing to the mainstream. The Top Tier Impact Investment Panels held during the World Economic Forum at the Fuxägufer on Tuesday, January 16th, 2024, proved to be highly successful for the investors in attendance.

Family offices, impact fund managers, and thought leaders had the opportunity to connect and discuss in two events, “Energy Transition and Decarbonisation” and “Responsible Investing and Conscious Leadership,” 

The day unfolded across two themes and their respective panel discussions. 

“Energy transition and decarbonization“

Impact investments in energy transition and decarbonization are transforming the investment narrative. Going beyond the traditional understanding of investment, this approach aims to strike a balance between increasing energy demand and environmental sensitivity. Energy security and decarbonization not only provide economic returns but also highlight environmental sustainability and societal benefits. In this context, investments in sustainable energy projects not only enhance economic growth and stability but also amplify environmental and social gains.

The morning started with a welcome by myself, followed by opening remarks by Alessa Berg, Founder and CEO of Top Tier Impact. The keynote speech from Eric Usher, Head of the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative, set a thoughtful tone for the discussions ahead in the energy space.

Next was the panel moderated by me. This panel delved into the transformative landscape of transitioning to sustainable energy and reducing carbon footprints. Lucy Thomas, Head of Sustainable Investing at UBS, shared her expertise in investment stewardship and sustainable investment strategies. Derek Brooks, Principal at 2150, shed light on innovative climate tech investments reshaping urban environments. Tarkan Özballar, CEO of EnerGreen, presented the pioneering blockchain-based solution for investing in renewable energy plants, emphasizing the integration of technology into energy generation and storage facilities. Vivian Claire Liew, CEO of Climate Smart Investments, provided insights into optimizing climate alpha in portfolio valuation.

“Responsible investing and conscious leadership”

Reflecting on this year's theme at the World Economic Forum, "Rebuilding Trust," it's evident that trust is the cornerstone of sustainable progress in any sphere, be it economic, social, or environmental. Responsible Investing and Conscious Leadership aren't just buzzwords; they represent actionable strategies to foster trust in our institutions, businesses, and communities.
Responsible Investing speaks volumes in an era where transparency and accountability reign supreme. It's about aligning financial goals with ethical and sustainable practices, ensuring that returns benefit shareholders and contribute positively to society and the planet.
Conscious leadership, likewise, plays a pivotal role in rebuilding trust. Leaders prioritizing integrity, empathy, and inclusivity inspire confidence and loyalty among their teams and stakeholders. They understand that trust is earned through consistent actions and genuine concern for the well-being of others.

This event started with the keynote speech from Begüm Doğan Faralyalı, Chairperson of Doğan Holding, who set an example of a value-driven family office strategy, followed by the Daring to Lead for Impact Workshop by Azrya Bequer & Astrid Brinck from KAVANÂ. This hands-on workshop explored practical strategies and exercises to help participants unlock their potential, enhance self-awareness, and empower them to lead with clarity.

Next was the panel moderated by Alessa Berg. This panel featured Dr. James Gifford, Head of Sustainable & Impact Advisory at Credit Suisse, Dr. Christian De Prati, Board Member at Rothschild & Co, Maureen N. Dunne, Author of The Neurodiversity Edge, Michael Birkin, Founder of kyu Collective, and Serhat Cicekoglu, Co-Founder of Sente Ventures. Collectively, the panelists provided an in-depth insight into responsible investing and conscious leadership, emphasizing a range of diverse approaches and strategies essential for fostering a positive impact in the business realm.

group at davos

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Ilkay Demirdag is an Investment and Impact Strategist with 24 years of experience working in multinational companies, conglomerates, banks and private equity funds in Turkey, the UK and Bahrain. She leads important initiatives to maximize value creation for all stakeholders, transform responsible and impact investments into the mainstream, and ensure sustainable economic development.

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