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Africa is key to unlocking world’s sustainability

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Picture: Supplied – Dr Iqbal Survé at the World Economic Forum in Davos. There were few participants from Africa attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this year. More need to have a seat at the table at events such as this forum, says the writer.

By Dr Iqbal Survé

The World Economic Forum (WEF) took place in Davos, Switzerland this week. This was the first Winter Davos since 2020 with a record number of participants, including heads of state and government ministers, global CEOs and philanthropists. Here is a wrap-up of my journey over four intense days of discussions.

DAY 1

The theme for this year was about “co-operation in a fragmented world”. Increasingly, we are facing a series of interwoven and parallel challenges, but in an ever-polarising society.

This year’s annual meeting, therefore, aims to address these head-on.

For those in emerging economies, access to basic power to enable light so children can see to complete their homework (if they are even in school) or access the internet and basic connectivity, is secondary when compared to food intake.

As the cost of living sharply rises and available income (for those who have any in the first place) dwindles, there will be more people on the poverty line and yet more requiring the solutions that come out of such forums as the WEF.

DAY 2

Delegates got down to business. This, against the backdrop of the opening day’s “Global Economist Outlook” released by WEF, is why we are here – business.

With around a third of the world expected to hit a recession this year according to the International Monetary Fund, and the continuing pressures on an already strained and outdated financial system, coupled with the destabilisation of the geopolitical landscape, I think it’s fair to say that we are in for a rocky ride in the short to medium term.

For me, the answer is simple. We need to communicate better and listen better. Put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and experience how they live – if even for a day. What is needed is respect, tolerance, and the ability to believe again.

Technology will pave the way for a more informed society, critical if we are to all understand one another, and allow for multistakeholder communication and collaboration. For this to happen and succeed there needs to be universal access to the internet.

Tackling some of these issues and calling for a more transparent and co-operative use of the Internet of Things for the benefit of all in society, the World Economic Forum Council on the Connected World released its latest report.

Another key topic at the WEF was the environment, with the term “Nature Positive” now accepted and which mindset is vital to achieving not only nature’s own version of net zero, but what I term, “Life Plus”, that puts the environment at the core of all decision-making.

Underpinning everything we are at present and what we are striving for is nature itself, which holds the ultimate solution. For, in protecting our natural resources instead of depleting them, and working to replace and even enhance what we once had, we can grow that idyllic and elusive sustainable future we are all looking for.

DAY 3

I attended The Davos Circle, an event hosted by Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF, that recognises veterans of WEF.

What struck me forcefully this time round is how few Africans were in attendance, suggesting that few of us have been part of the gathering for 10 years or more.

Over the past few decades, Africa has been a hot topic on many fronts. Yet, for Africa to be for its people, more Africans need to have a seat at the table at events such as the WEF.

For to be informed is to be empowered, and with a growing call for cross-border collaboration across the Continent itself, the more aware and informed we are, the more enabled we will be to own our future.

Talking of Africa’s sustainability, I also attended a session to do with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement.

A highlight to date for me was the Bloomberg luncheon earlier in the week at which I was enthused by the interest and optimism in Africa of such leaders as Larry Fink, the CEO of Black Rock, who remarked that our global current situation is going to get better, not worse, and how their funders are looking for true investment opportunities on the Continent.

DAY 4

Certain home truths must be taken on board by South Africa if it is to ever create the space our hard-won freedom dreamt of for our people.

There are three things South Africa must do now for tomorrow:

Clean energy: If you are in South Africa, any energy will do that will enable us to switch on a light, cook a meal or take a hot shower. But, as much as the current situation is aggravating the country’s economic recovery, progression, and interrupting sleep patterns, it is also a golden opportunity to re-imagine and implement greener ways of generating our energy – but fast. Lest we forget, in 2020 South Africa committed to reaching net zero by 2050.

Technology: WEF in Davos 2023 highlighted how technology continues to grow its influence and shift the world into the digital era. In order not to be left behind, South Africa must urgently put the measures in place with which to ensure we have the skills and capacity to “talk” this new language.

Collaborate authentically: Underpinning everything is the need for continuing and honest collaboration and co-operation to build this better future for all, and it starts at home.

The WEF, in 2023, called for a dawn of stakeholder geopolitics. Its theme of “co-operation in a fragmented world” was set against the backdrop of escalating global competition and conflict. Is it too late for us to turn the tide? I hope not.

It is not just South Africa that can lead the way, but a united continent. Africa is the key to unlocking the world’s sustainability. It has vast amounts of uncultivated arable land, not to mention its natural resources as a renewable energy central generator.

It’s up to us.

Dr Survé is the Executive Chairman of the Sekunjalo Group and a WEF member since 2007.

iqbal.surve@inl.co.za