Entrepreneurial Insights from Davos, the World Economic Forum 2017

The forward march of automation, much of which is being driven by innovation in the tech community, indicates strong industry advancement. However, it comes at the cost of economic anxiety for many of the people - often not the decision-makers - who are potentially displaced by this tech progress. As entrepreneurs and tech leaders, we have an obligation to offer solutions to ease this uncertainty.

With opportune timing, this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland focused on “responsible and responsive leadership,” as worldwide alarm grew over increased protectionism and the renewed rise of nationalism in countries like the U.S. and Great Britain. The wave of terrorist attacks across Europe further strengthened the call to fortify borders and develop protectionist policies that place the security of their country above unification and globalization.

WEF’s leaders echoed this concern by placing the surge in anti-global sentiment front and center as the key agenda item during the four-day summit. Many leaders addressed the issue in their opening remarks, holding nothing back, as they urged leaders to develop credible actions to stop the downward spiral that threatens the global economy.

In a nod to the very real pain felt by many who have not benefited from the Fourth Industrial Revolution, but rather have felt greater inequality and unemployment, WEF encouraged leaders from all walks of life to rededicate themselves to the development of common goals and new initiatives that benefit everyone.

WEF states that they recognize these opposing forces and seek to exercise shared stewardship of critical systems and the development of equitable, global growth. Two of the summit’s key discussions are points that I, as an entrepreneur, found incredibly interesting and encouraging.

A Call for Inclusiveness

In his final speech as Vice President, Joe Biden reflected on the peacebuilding history of the U.S. and Europe, stating, “We cannot undo the changes technology has wrought in our world - nor should we try. But we can, and we must take action to mitigate the economic trends that are stoking unrest in so many advanced economies and undermining people’s basic sense of dignity. Our goal should be a world where everyone’s standard of living can rise together.”

From across the world, Alibaba’s Jack Ma argued that the fear of globalization was sparked internally within the U.S. by the way that funds are distributed by civic and business leaders. He said that the U.S. spent over $14 trillion on wars over the last 30 years rather than “helping the Midwest” and improving schools, and expressed his desire to work together with new leadership.

Many of these proclamations were in direct response to statements made by President Trump throughout his campaign, his time as president-elect, and now as President.

Automation & AI, Not Necessarily a Jobs Killer

Many panels in Davos revolved around artificial intelligence and the threat of automation. One in particular discussed the potential benefits of artificial intelligence as it relates to finance, healthcare and education.

It also covered the significant threat of job elimination through increased automated technology. On the panel, IBM Chief Executive, Ginni Rometty, acknowledged the fear of losing jobs to this technology but added that technological breakthroughs historically lead to unforeseen employment opportunities.

Though other commentators responded with doubt, Richard Lumb, CEO of Accenture, explained that while automation replaced 17,000 jobs at Accenture in the last 18 months, rather than laying those people off, they were able to reposition them. Repositioning employees may not be scalable for all companies, but is a key example of how business are adapting to disruption. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce, recalled that an estimated 65% of children entering primary school today will have to prepare for jobs in categories that don’t yet exist.

At TechNexus, we believe that it's up to technology companies and entrepreneurs to lessen the economic anxiety resulting from political uncertainty as well as fewer jobs. A few ways we think that's possible:

Educate our Youth

Organizations like Chicago Tech Academy provide mentorship from the tech community and teach high school students skills such as how to think critically about real-world problems, solve them with tech and collaboration, and create business plans to bring them to life. This enables a diverse workforce to approach the tech and political problems of tomorrow, whether that includes finding solutions to job displacement due to automation or ensuring true, factual news stories are shared.

Support Regional Specialties

Each U.S. region has industry or vertical expertise. Detroit - auto, New York - finance, Midwest - agriculture (and others). Rather than ship agtech expertise to the coasts, it should be developed and grown in its communities. This expands innovation hubs across the country facilitating job creation in the heartland and calming social unrest.

Immigration Reform

Entrepreneurial support of legislation like the BRIDGE Act enables U.S.-educated immigrants to legally work in the U.S. as well as create and build businesses here. In 2014, 28 percent of all new entrepreneurs were immigrants. Beyond founders, tech companies in particular are propped up by engineering, software development, and other entrepreneurial skills that often stem from immigrant talent. The current political climate threatens the foundation of the American dream by working to shut out ambitious immigrant talent that brings different perspective to the table. The same perspective that might help create jobs in the U.S. for the workers displaced by automation.

One final thought from WEF that resonated with me and further supports these solutions, is the multi-stakeholder perspective. It revolves around the idea that the only way to address significant challenges is to discuss them with all groups in society and all members of the international community. Proven to form relevant discussions globally since the first World Economic Forum in 1971, it supports the entrepreneurial theory that collaboration speeds up progress.

*This was originally a LinkedIn Pulse article by Terry Howerton.