Thoughts from Davos: Crisis creates opportunity

I’m in Davos this week attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) summit representing Intel’s Emerging Markets Platform Group for the first time. As everyone would expect, the economic crisis is the focus of the summit this week: What caused it? What did we learn? And — the first question everyone’s asking — when will it be over?

Lila Ibrahim at WEF.jpg

We took a different approach in the discussions I participated in on Tuesday. I have had the honor of attending the summit also as one of 120 selected Young Global Leaders (YGL), a community of under-40 business and political leaders from 82 countries. Among my YGL peers, the talk isn’t so much about when the crisis will pass, but about how much it will change us and how to use it as an opportunity to change the world.

I decided that’s a great way to think about it. It ties into a conclusion we reached in a YGL work group discussion I facilitated: “Crisis is a terrible thing to waste” (a quote from economist Paul Romer). Crisis creates opportunity — for a cultural shift, for rethinking values and ethics, for changing the way power is distributed, for the way decisions are made and communicated.

We can continue to debate the negative effects of this economic crisis, but eventually we need to stop trying to find all the problems and start finding solutions. The challenge, as my generation sees it, is convincing people that the world is different today, it’s much more interconnected and interdependent across countries, industries, and people. We need to find ways to inspire people and engage them both in short-term and long-term solutions.

This kind of thinking calls for rethinking what questions to ask. Instead of “When will it be over?” to “How do we use this crisis as a way to shape a better future?” The unspoken concern is that the world is facing a series of crises: political, environmental, and social. The world has changed, but our outlook to these issues hasn’t. Is it possible to build a better world for the next generation? What are the new business models, the new leadership skills, the new system we should start shaping for the coming decade? How do we shape our education system to prepare our youth for skills that will be relevant in the new world? These are the questions our generation of leaders aims to solve.

The theme of next-generation leadership also wove through sessions I attended today on social entrepreneurship, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. Instead of just focusing on philanthropy, we should look at how to create businesses that are doing good in their community but at the same time are profitable and sustainable – being able to stay around to contribute long term. I’m glad that Intel is already working towards this direction – our approach in emerging markets has always been providing support to local businesses and NGOs, facilitating the development of the local industries through our efforts in the Intel World Ahead Program and the [Intel Learning Series ]( example, under the Intel Learning Series, we are working with software developers in local countries, helping them develop education software that is locally relevant in their community.

I will be attending more sessions in the coming days at WEF and will share more of my experiences and observations later in the week.