Returning to Rome from Davos, I have mixed feelings about this year’s World Economic Forum. I have been encouraged by the discussions on values, which have featured prominently this year and have been the main focus of my contributions. It has been interesting to see how the business and finance communities have engaged with this topic. I have been pleased to spot at least one banker attending sessions at which I have spoken!
I have also been impressed with how participants have got behind the relief efforts for Haiti, encouraged to a large extent by President Bill Clinton.
The World Economic Forum is good at responding to crises, at identifying innovative solutions, at tackling new challenges – in the words of this year’s theme, at “rethinking, redesigning and rebuilding”. But what concerns me is that the old, chronic problems of the world – like poverty, for instance – should not be neglected.
A session on the Millennium Development Goals, held in the main Congress Hall and featuring an impressive panel including the prime minister of Zimbabwe Morgan Tsvangirai, attracted a disappointingly small audience, comprised, as far as I could see, mainly of NGO representatives and politicians. The session highlighted the considerable progress that has been made and the need to keep the momentum going. Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates stressed the need to keep up pressure on governments to honour their financial commitments to achieving the MDGs. Former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark, who now heads up the UN Development Programme, said that the delivery of financial aid to Africa was woefully below target and that there was a strong moral case for governments to honour their commitments. Jeffrey Sachs of the UN Millennium Project said that the lack of finance had nothing to do with the global recession but was a deep-seated political problem.
My final input to the World Economic Forum was as discussion leader at a workshop entitled “Lessons from the Past to Redesign Future Values”, organised by the Faith Communities at the Forum. Taking part were policymakers and leaders from business and NGOs, social entrepreneurs, academics and media representatives. The discussions made clear that international institutions are underperforming on core objectives such as poverty eradication, sustainable economic growth, human security, conflict avoidance and many more.
The aim of the two hour debate was to learn about historical shifts in values and to design a new vision for the values that should underpin our global economy and society. Among the other discussion leaders were Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate and Chair of the Canadian Nobel Women’s Initiative, Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp of the Soetendorp Institute for Human Values in the Netherlands, Valdis Zatlers, President of Latvia, Michael Useem, Professor of Management and Director, Centre for Leadership and Change Management, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and David Tuckett, Professor of Psychoanalysis and Director of the Conference Programme, University College London.
As is often my experience, when people from such different professional and cultural backgrounds come together in conversation, we find common values which unite us around shared objectives without difficulty. These were outlined as being respect for the dignity of every human person, solidarity and concern for the common good and care for the most vulnerable in our society. But can our financial institutions now put these into practice? Can they be motivated not solely by profit but also genuinely serve the common good? Will development aid be targeted at meeting the needs of the poor rather than the national interests of donors? As Caritas people, as the sign and action of God’s love for all humanity, this must remain our hope.