An Update from the CEO: A Moment of Relevancy — Imperative Direction from a Dozen Years in Davos

J. Carl Ganter, Vector Center CEO

J. Carl Ganter, Vector Center CEO

The first quarter of 2019 has already shown dramatic shifts in the world of water and climate risks. It’s been a heady two months of activity within the global community of top business leaders, policy makers, influencers and climate experts, with the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos and Digital Life Design’s (DLD) Munich conference.

My sessions at both only reinforced my belief that we are facing a rare moment in human history when people, creativity, values, and technology must unite to shift a precarious direction—all while water crises remain the world’s most profound risk.

At DLD-Munich, I coordinated and moderated a session on ocean plastics with panelists from adidas, WWF, and the Ocean Plastics Initiative. Even our esteemed experts were surprised by the interest — with standing room only and sharp questions. It’s an indicator that people of all levels are starting to participate in responding to the world’s grand challenges.

To Davos and Beyond

At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, the tension and roll-up-the-sleeves solemnity was palpable. But you wouldn’t have known from the media coverage.

While reporters seemed fixated on the number of private jets ferrying world leaders, the Forum was convening a series of mission-critical work sessions to literally save the planet.

In one private session, a recognized leader provided our invocation: “Yesterday is too late.” I took a moment to look around the table and capture the image, 18 of us, all senior executives from major institutions with a shared mission to guide the world through turbulent times.

Scientific Targets

At a session led by Johan Rockström, former executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, it was clear we must come together — fast — and commit to advance data, narratives, and connectivity around specific scientific targets to save the planet at an emergency pace.

The climate — and survivability — challenge is the existential question for humanity. Are we ready for a collaborative effort that dwarfs all of human endeavor? Rockström warned that we have two years to “significantly bend the curves” of water, food, climate, oceans, and biodiversity.

Feeding a hungry world

Food and land use are fast emerging as key metrics in the global response to worldwide water crises. Setting the course for feeding the planet is the ripest for immediate change — with food waste, biodiversity, and forest loss, all having severe water impacts and huge climate footprints.

“We’re a minute to midnight,” David Nabarro told me. He’s former Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change. I’ve heard his steady, informed guidance on many Forum calls. Getting food production right could push back hard on the clock.

After innumerable sessions and workshops, I came away encouraged by monumental movements in sustainability and innovation, such as the Leaders with Purpose initiative, which includes CEOs of some of the largest global brands.

There’s clear understanding now that surprises, missteps, and lack of action in this arena carry real and direct consequences and risks to not only reputation, but to survival of business and political stability. Incremental is no longer an option.

My Takeaways of Davos in five keywords are:

  • Intensity: It’s a sobering time. Neither the sessions nor the receptions were frivolous. It’s a time for testing new ideas, and a time for course correction.
  • Urgency: There’s a clear understanding that the impact is imminent and course-correction has to happen. Now.
  • Context: Leaders recognize the need to marry science with narratives to understand and define their direction. This is a shifting global story about people and their leaders.
  • Collaboration: Like our 18 “action figures” around the table, effective action means leaving ego behind and uniting our best talents, from technology to storytelling.
  • Gratitude: People have been generous with their time, attention, and networks. Now is the time to honor the work that has come before us and stand on the shoulders of giants.

This was my twelfth Davos, and I wouldn’t have traded a minute. From joining heroes Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever, and Bill McDonough, architect of the circular economy, for a nightcap, to being a small part of the Forum’s yeoman’s work to shepherd the greatest talents and influencers to improve the state of the world.

For Vector Center’s team, it’s empowering to know that we’re driven by a core mission to provide the engine and compass that can shift the world’s dangerous course.