A very snowy meeting…in Davos!

8 Feb

 My first time in Davos.  And a record, according to the founder of the WEF, there has never been so much snow during the forum.  I was told 2m60! 

So, on my first day, I made my way through the slippery streets to my first meeting where the Schwab Foundation had kindly invited me to a preparatory meeting with social entrepreneurs.  What that meeting really did to me is to reinforce my belief that the only way to solve our society problems is to make people meet and talk.  This dialogue allows a deep connection at human level and kills prejudices and preconceived ideas. 

The next day, I was (briefly) allowed in the sacred temple of the WEF.  As one can well imagine, one does not get into the WEF without a good reason.  About 2000 participants, royalty, politicians, artists, CEOs, social entrepreneurs, journalists, book writers, etc., etc., etc. rub shoulders and get a chance to listen to very inspirational sessions and to network. 

But, what was I doing there, you may wonder?  Through my new connections in the social business world,  I was introduced to the Schwab Foundation who were kind enough to give us a space in their session on the topic of shared value.  We shared this space with big corporations in different industries, like energy, food, pharmaceuticals, recruitment, IT, etc..  So what did we do?  We defined what shared value is, how it differs from CSR and what the critical success factors areto actually implement a successful shared value strategy. 

Shared value, for most of us was based on shared objectives, common goals, dialogue, sustainability, metrics. But also some more extreme views, ie that shared value is first and foremost about capitalism, whereas Nobel prize Professor Muhamad Yunus made it very clear again that social business can only be not for profit and solely based on selflessness. 

So, what was SWIFT, and particularly SWIFT Innotribe, doing in the middle of all this?  Well, we were there, Lazaro Campos, our CEO, and I, to run one of the breakout sessions on what shared value is for a company like SWIFT.  Surrounded by an array of people covering sectors such as ebay, micro-credit, insurances, consulting, alternative financial institutions we deep dived into Banks for a better World.  This is how SWIFT proposes to address shared value.  How does this initiative differ from others?  First it is not SWIFT’s project only.  Its uniqueness is that it tries to rally the whole financial industry around social business and how the banks could support it.  Unlike other shared value strategies that are specific to one company only. 

How did the session go?  It started with a lot of questions from the participants, since it was not clear to them why SWIFT wanted to get involved into such an initiative.  At first, people were unclear, a bit sceptical and reticent, to be really honest.  But Lazaro explained the rationale behind the project, our traditional role of bringing all the competing banks around the same table to come up with collaborative answers to issues.  But also, some more fundamental and existential questions, which are so relevant in a time of crisis.  How will the role of banks evolve in the future with the changes that are brewing in society?  The old game is not acceptable any longer to most people and especially the younger generations.  Financial inclusion presents a risk to disintermediate the banks if they do not offer the relevant financial instruments to connect the unconnected and to bank the unbanked.  Currencies are becoming virtual.  The concept of value is changing.  Capitalism and the economies are all in turmoil.  

This makes it all relevant to gather the industry and to do some deep thinking about the future.  And that is precisely where Banks for a better World fits. 

What did we conclude from the session?  The group definitely supported the initiative, notwithstanding the initial reluctance.  Their advice was to focus on financial inclusion and supporting social business.  They could see the value of SWIFT playing this intermediary role to connect mainstream banking with social banking and its ultimate beneficiaries, the unbanked, the poor and the social entrepreneurs. 

Lazaro and I felt that definitely warrants pursuing the project and taking it to another level where concrete decisions and actions are put in place.  Our next chapter of this book will be written on 6 March in New York with a core group of banks and non-banks.  Watch this space!  It is only the beginning of this exciting journey. 

And as far as first experiences go, Davos was maybe not glorious yet, but a very firm step in the right direction.

Martine De Weirdt




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