TIME feminism

Meet 10 CEOs and University Leaders Working For Gender Equality

Marco Grob--Marco Grob Photography, Inc.

From Unilever to the University of Hong Kong, a wave of male executives join UNWomen's new 'HeForShe' initiative

Correction appended, May 6

Heads of state, CEOs and university presidents are all making public and concrete commitments to gender equality in the latest installment of UN Women’s ‘HeForShe’ initiative.

As part of HeForShe’s IMPACT 10x10x10 initiative, 10 heads of state, 10 CEOs and 10 university presidents will publicly commit to taking tangible steps to achieve gender equality in their organizations. On Tuesday, the first five CEOs and five university presidents announced their commitments–the others will be released over the coming months.

Each company or university signed the UN’s Women Empowerment Principles, with a special emphasis on Principle #7: to measure and publicly report on efforts to achieve gender equality. Corporate participants detailed their plans to help close the pay gap, achieve parity in management, and expand opportunities for women throughout their supply chains.

“If we are to achieve gender equality in our lifetime, we need creative approaches that target the biggest barriers,” says Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Women Executive Director, noting that this program “brings together the strength of partners across sectors to crack some of those barriers from within.”

Here’s who is committing to HeForShe in the corporate world:

Sebastien Bazin is CEO of Accor, a Paris-based hotel group that employs 180,000 people and runs 3,800 hotels in 92 countries, like Sofitel, Novotel, and MGallery. As the father of two “brilliant daughters,” Bazin says he believes women should be “given the same opportunities as their male peers,” yet acknowledges that women remain underrepresented in company management. That’s why Bazin is committing to closing the pay gap within Accor, doubling the share of women in COO roles by 2020, and tripling the share of women on the executive committee by 2018. He also pledged to get 50,000 male employees (60% of the company) to commit to be HeForShe champions for gender equality.

Paul Polman is CEO of Unilever, the world’s third-largest consumer goods company. Unilever owns brands like Axe, Dove, Lipton, Sunsilk, and Hellmans, and employs 172,000 people. Right now, only 43% of Unilever managers are female, but under the new initiative the company has pledged to achieve parity in management by 2020. They’ve also promised to expand safety programs in regions where the company operates, and provide skills training and other empowerment tools to 5 million women by 2020.

Mustafa V. Koç is head of the Koç Group, the largest industrial conglomerate in Turkey and one of the biggest companies in Europe. With 113 companies and almost 86,000 employees, Koç is the only Turkish company on the Fortune Global 500 list. But the company recognizes much of their work is in male-dominated industries, and that women’s advancement is difficult in Turkey and throughout the region. To that end, Koç is committing to mobilizing 4 million people across Turkey to speak up for gender equality, and providing gender sensitivity training to 100,000 people by 2020. And this year, the company will release its first-ever report on gender parity.

Dennis Nally is chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the professional services firm that is one of the largest campus recruiters in the US. Using their networks on college campuses, the company has pledged to develop a gender equality curriculum to reach 1 million male students by 2016. They’ve also pledged to evaluate how to get more women into leadership roles within the company, and promised that every senior partner will publicly commit as a HeForShe by the end of the year.

Rick Goings, CEO of Tupperware Brands, has pledged a full audit of the company, from senior executives down to factory workers, with an eye towards reaching 50/50 representation at every part of the supply chain. Tupperware has also promised to educate their entire sales force — 3 million people — about HeForShe.

And here are the universities committing to HeForShe:

The University of Hong Kong aims to triple the number of women in dean-level positions by 2020 (currently, only 7% of deans are women.) The University is also working on a gender bias curriculum that they hope will reach 50% of students by 2018.

The University of Leicester in the UK aims to bridge the gender gaps in key academic areas like psychology and engineering, and pledged to make their faculty 30% female by 2020. They’ve also created a prize for exceptional work in achieving gender equality.

Nagoya University in Japan has pledged to build the first-ever Center for Gender Equality in Japan by 2018, and will continue to establish women-only faculty positions in science subjects. They’ll also create dedicated programs for female PhD students and mentoring programs to help women occupy 20% of the faculty and university leadership positions by 2020 (a 25% increase).

University of Waterloo in Canada is committing to boosting female enrollment in STEM fields by two-thirds by 2020, so that woman make up 33% of math and science students. They’re also pledging to make the faculty 31% female and the administration and senior leadership 34% female by 2020.

University of Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg pledges to have women occupy 32% of the Heads of Schools roles by 2019, and to increase women in professor roles to 30%. They also plan to publish annual reports on campus violence, and work on non-traditional techniques to spread the message of gender equality, including “ambush lectures,” to reach students who are skeptical as well as those who are supportive.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly described the University of Waterloo’s goal for women enrolled in STEM fields. It is 33%.

 

 

 

TIME Davos

Down and Out in Davos

Why the world’s powerful are worried about 2015

It’s a perennial question: What is the World Economic Forum (WEF) actually good for? The annual confab of the world’s rich and powerful in Davos, Switzerland, has evolved significantly in the past few decades, from a gathering of hardcore economists and financiers to a broader forum for the discussion of ideas ranging from the role of women in the workplace to the future of the Internet. In my opinion, it’s still the best place on earth to get a sense of what global decisionmakers will be thinking about in the year ahead. I made my way around the Magic Mountain listening to bankers, executives, policymakers and world leaders, and here’s what I found.

Tech Brings Bad With Good

Digital Disrupters and Web Pioneers–Google executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg among them–were out in force as always, extolling the virtues of concepts like the “Internet of things,” which could create entirely new markets. But average people don’t necessarily share their enthusiasm for, and abiding faith in, tech. The Edelman Trust Barometer report, a 27-country survey measuring confidence in the public and private sectors that was released during the conference, found that the majority of the world’s consumers think technological change is moving too fast for them. By a margin of 2 to 1, people don’t believe that governments or businesses are thinking enough about the broad societal impact of developments like social media, digital security, genetically modified foods and fracking. Technology for technology’s sake, most people feel, is not a good thing.

That, in part, may be because the gains made possible by technology over the past decade or so have been unevenly shared. A WEF white paper prepared by the Swiss bank UBS found that sectors boosted by new technologies, such as finance and manufacturing, “have delivered a large share of U.S. economic growth without adding significant numbers of new jobs.” Smarter software and the advent of such innovations as 3-D printing are making some people very wealthy. But technological advances have done comparatively little to replace the middle-class jobs lost over the past couple of decades.

How to explain the divide? Technologists like MIT’s Andrew McAfee, who made waves at Davos last year with a book he co-wrote, Race Against the Machine, would argue that the scope of the digital revolution is so massive that it will destroy more jobs before it starts creating them and that the broader growth-enhancing effects of technology will simply take longer to be felt. As the UBS paper notes, it took around 50 years for the benefits of electricity to completely filter through the economy. Still, for a civilization that reflexively looks to technology to deliver us from seemingly unsolvable predicaments, this is a worrisome trend.

Global Growth May Be in Peril

We need that broader tech boom to goose productivity. Globally, productivity grew at a good clip over the past half-century, rising 1.7% a year. But as countries become more developed, productivity growth slows. One of the most sobering presentations, given by the consulting giant McKinsey, made the point that when you combine slower productivity with a dramatic decrease in the global birth rate, you get economic growth that could be much lower over the next 50 years than it has been in the past 50.

Economic growth is basically a function of the number of workers and their productivity. The former is falling sharply as countries get richer and women have fewer children, and the latter is more or less stagnant. “It’s as if we’ve been flying a plane on two engines, and one of them is about to go out,” says James Manyika, head of the McKinsey Global Institute. If current trends continue, McKinsey projects that global growth will slow to about 2.1% a year, even as more people than ever have expectations of a middle-class life. Not a great formula for social stability.

Women and Children First

People can keep praying that technology will produce more middle-class jobs, but there is one proven solution for boosting economic growth: putting more women to work. The picture of gender parity from Davos is never great; this year, the meeting had a record 17% female participation, up from 9% in the early 2000s. One WEF study found that at the current rate of change, it would take women 81 more years to reach economic equality with men.

Ironically, this seems to have created a cottage industry in gender-parity consulting. Employees of both sexes from firms like Mercer and Ernst & Young were at Davos hawking strategies about how to promote women. My advice: think less about leaning in and more about how to help families create support structures that allow more women to work. Warren Buffett once suggested to me that the U.S. government should offer subsidized child care, allowing caregivers (mostly women) to earn a better wage while freeing women who are higher up the educational food chain to take bigger jobs. It remains one of the best policy proposals I’ve ever heard.

Plenty of Band-Aids, Not Many Cures

Of course, that would require action from politicians, something that everyone agrees is in short supply. The divide between the fortunes of global markets (which have remained surprisingly buoyant) and national economies (which are sluggish in many parts of the world) was a big topic yet again. In the middle of the WEF meeting, the European Central Bank (ECB) launched its version of quantitative easing, a $1.3 trillion bond-buying program of the type that the U.S. Federal Reserve–which bought some $4 trillion in assets over the past few years–has only just reined in. It is an effort to help Europe avert another recession, and markets responded instantly, with European stocks rising, bond yields falling and the euro weakening, which should help exports.

While many at Davos were grateful for the uptick in their portfolios, some high-profile financiers fretted that the ECB’s move comes with a downside that will thwart a lasting solution to the European debt crisis. As hedge funder Paul Singer put it to me, “The QE program takes the pressure off European leaders to take the fiscal, tax, regulatory, trade, education and other steps necessary to generate real sustainable growth. [ECB president] Mario Draghi is an enabler, because the money printing enables the Presidents and Prime Ministers to avoid making real structural reforms.”

Polarized politics on both sides of the Atlantic has made it hard for governments to make the sorts of moves that create real growth. (The recent Greek elections won’t change much there.) So central bankers have kept the easy money flowing to give countries more time. But the emerging-market crises of the 1980s and ’90s teach us that printing money isn’t a substitute for fixing structural problems. If you do one without the other, the market will punish you viciously later on.

And all that easy money has exacerbated the growth of inequality globally, since most of it has gone to pumping up stocks, which are mainly held by the top 25% of the population. Wages remain stagnant and middle-class jobs elusive. That divide, which reflects the one between Davos and everywhere else, is what we’ll be grappling with in the year ahead.


This appears in the February 09, 2015 issue of TIME.
TIME Davos

Bill Gates: HIV Vaccine a Reality by 2030

Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gestures next to his wife Melinda French Gates during the session 'Sustainable Development: A Vision for the Future' in the Swiss mountain resort of Davos
Ruben Sprich—Reuters Bill and Melinda Gates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.

New drugs would significantly impact the global struggle against the virus which has claimed the lives on millions over the past 30 years

Philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates believes an HIV vaccine, as well as new intensive drugs to combat the disease, will be available by 2030. That would significantly impact the global struggle against the virus which has claimed the lives of millions over the past 30 years.

Speaking the World Economic Forum in Davos, the billionaire founder of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said the two “miracles” were within reach. “We’re pretty optimistic in this 15-year period we will get those two new tools,” he said. The Gates Foundation, founded fifteen years ago, spends tens of millions of dollars on medical research.

A vaccine is seen as pivotal in preventing new infections, while drug treatments would do away with the need for life-long treatment, he added.

[The Guardian]

TIME Davos

Kerry and Hollande Call for Intensified Fight Against Terrorism

Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.
Demotix/Corbis Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech about violent extremism to the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Jan. 23, 2015.

"This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms," Kerry says

Talk at the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos turned to the fight against terrorism Friday, with French President François Hollande and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry encouraging the influential world figures gathered here to step up efforts to fight Islamist extremists.

Kerry told the audience that the fight against terrorism would include a military component but also needed to address the economic and educational conditions that can provide fertile ground for extremists. “This fight will not be decided on the battlefield, but in the classrooms, workplaces, places of worship of the world,” he said. Kerry said he would be traveling shortly to Nigeria, whose government is waging a war against the increasingly emboldened Islamist group Boko Haram.

Hollande, who led more than one million people in a unity rally in Paris following terrorist attacks in the city this month that left 17 people dead, called on business leaders and governments to cooperate against extremists. “France has reacted and taken measures, but there also needs to be a global, international response,” he said. “It needs to be international and shared, shared between the states who have to bear responsibility on the front line, but also by businesses, particularly the largest ones, who can also take action.”

Hollande also signaled that France’s military involvement in Africa could grow. “In Africa, France is on the ground and it will continue to be so more than ever before,” he said. “It will be present to bring help to those countries who are having to deal with the scourge of terrorism. I’m thinking of the Sahel, in particular, but also the situation in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, and Chad, who are under attack from Boko Haram. Now France cannot do everything, France cannot act alone. But whenever it can, it will, to lead by example.”

Speaking after Hollande and before Kerry on the main stage of the Davos conference center, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked for more help in his country’s fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

“The cost of action will be high but the cost of inaction will be much, much higher,” said al-Abadi, who has been Prime Minister since September.

Al-Abadi said that in recent weeks there had been improved coordination between the U.S.-led air campaign against ISIS and Iraqi ground troops who he said are currently fighting to control territory that would create a route for Iraqi government forces to try to take back the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul. But he said Iraq was struggling under the burden of fighting a war while providing regular government services. “We need help,” he said.

In a sign of how longstanding enemies are finding themselves fighting on the same side in parts of an increasingly complex Middle East, the Iraqi Prime leader acknowledged to interviewer Charlie Rose that Iran is also providing Iraq with military aid. “They’ve helped us in the first stage,” he said. “They have been very prompt in sending arms, in sending munitions.”

TIME Davos

Emma Watson Launches New Anti-Sexism Initiative at Davos

Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven and actress Emma Watson attends World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos.
Aftonbladet/IBL/Zuma Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven and actress Emma Watson attends World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015 in Davos.

The "Harry Potter" star was in Switzerland to unveil a new UN project aimed at improving gender equality

Harry Potter star and UN Women Global Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson was on hand at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday, where UN Women — the United Nations entity dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment — unveiled the HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 pilot initiative.

The new initiative was announced at a press conference attended by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, several world leaders and Watson. They outlined the HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 program, which will be a one-year pilot project geared toward advancing women by working with governments, companies and universities in order to promote change within their respective communities.

“The groundswell of response we have received in support for HeForShe tells us we are tapping into what the world wants: to be a part of change,” Watson said at the press conference. “Now we have to channel that energy into purposeful action. The pilot initiative provides that framework. Next we need all country leadership, as well as that of hundreds of universities and corporations to follow HeForShe’s IMPACT 10x10x10 so as to bring an end to the persisting inequalities faced by women and girls globally.”

Watson first became involved with UN Women last summer and in the fall of 2014 announced the HeForShe campaign in a moving speech that received world-wide attention.

TIME Davos

The 5 Numbers That Explain Davos 2015

Bremmer is a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large at TIME.

From the outside, Davos doesn’t change much. Political and business leaders from around the world have again descended on this beautiful Swiss ski town for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. On the inside, however, each meeting has its own preoccupations and agenda items. Here are five numbers that underscore what’s new — and what remains the same:

1,700 private jets

This week, an estimated 1,700 private jets arrived in Davos, double the traffic in an average week. Available landing spots were scarce. For the first time, the Swiss Armed Forces opened a military air base to help manage the overflow. But this year, the cost won’t burn (quite) as badly: The spot price of jet fuel has fallen 50% in the past five months.

60 billion euros a month

On Thursday morning, Angela Merkel addressed the World Economic Forum, stressing that Germany “want[s] to remain a stable anchor for Europe.” She was upstaged by European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, speaking from Frankfurt at the same time. He announced a larger-than-expected and open-ended quantitative easing program of 60 billion euros ($70 billion) a month. In response to his speech, borrowing costs in Germany, Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Portugal fell to record lows.

9,000 Russian troops

Davos has never seen so many Ukrainians attend the conference, but they’re not there to celebrate their country’s success. Russia’s incursion pushed Ukraine’s GDP down nearly 10% in 2014, and industrial output fell almost 11%. The hryvnia has lost half its pre-war value and was last year’s worst-performing currency—unless you count Bitcoin. After Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Ukraine is 10,000 square miles smaller—and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko claims that 7% of his country’s territory is effectively occupied. Nor did Poroshenko have much time to enjoy the Davos view: He left early to deal with a surge in fighting around Donetsk. Ukraine’s president also says that 9,000 Russian troops have crossed the border.

0 Voldemort references

At Davos last year, conflict between China and Japan was talk of the town. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying described the China-Japan relationship as “at its worst.” Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe compared China-Japan to Britain-Germany on the cusp of World War I. Leaders on both sides likened the other country to Harry Potter villain “Voldemort.”

This year, though only 7% of Japanese and 8% of Chinese hold a favorable view of the other country according to recent polls, Xi and Abe are working to keep tensions in check. They’ll never be buddies, but both are leading domestic reform drives that require better relations between the world’s second and third largest economies.

67% of guestlist drawn from two continents

According to a new report from Oxfam, the world’s richest 1% own 48% of the world’s wealth—and will have captured more than half within two years. As many of these elites descend on Davos, the geographic makeup of the guest list is also unbalanced. North America and Europe account for 67% of Davos 2015 attendees, even though these continents are home to less than one-fifth of the global population. That said, Europe and North America still account for some 60% of the world’s GDP.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Davos

The Coming Crisis Making the World’s Most Powerful People Blanch

TIME.com stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

If global growth slows, as some predict it will, the globe is in for a lot of very big problems

The past 50 years have been the most exceptional period of growth in global history. The world economy expanded sixfold, average per capita income tripled, and hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of poverty. That’s the good news. But according to a new McKinsey report on the next 50 years of global growth revealed today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, it’s very unlikely that we’ll be able to equal that in the future. There are two main reasons for this gloomy conclusion: the global birthrate is falling dramatically and productivity is slowing. Economic growth is basically productivity plus demographics. The result? McKinsey is forecasting that if current trends continue, global growth will fall by 40% over the next half century, to around 2.1% year.

A while back, I wrote a column about what a 2% economy would mean for the U.S. Imagine if the whole world, including emerging markets that need much higher rates just to keep social unrest under control, were growing that slowly too. Not good.

McKinsey got a bunch of big brains—Larry Summers, Martin Sorrel, Martin Wolf, Laura Tyson, Michael Spence, and others—together to discuss all this and figure out some possible solutions. A few interesting points that came out: while we are in the middle of a digital revolution that seems to be disrupting nearly every aspect of business and the economy, not to mention our personal lives and culture, the revolution isn’t showing up in productivity numbers yet. Part of that could be that the way we measure productivity isn’t capturing everything that individuals are doing on their smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets. (It’s also worth noting that a lot of what is being created by individuals on those devices is free, which is an economic problem all its own, in the sense that only a few big companies like Facebook and Google and Twitter capture those creative gains, and they don’t create enough jobs to sustain what’s being lost in the economy.) There’s also the possibility that this “revolution,” simply isn’t as transformative, at least in terms of broadly shared economic growth, as those of the past—the Industrial Revolution or even the 1970s computer revolution. (For more on this, check out research by Northwestern University academic Robert Gordon, who is all over this topic.)

There are things we can do to boost productivity, like getting the private sector more involved in areas like education (for more, see The School That Will Get You a Job), and by allowing the gains from the internet of things (meaning the connection of all digital devices to each other) to filter through over the next few years. It’s not yet clear that will create more jobs though. Indeed, it may create jobless productivity which is a whole new challenge to cope with, one that might require bigger wealth transfers from the small number of wealthy people who do have jobs to the larger number of people who don’t. (Paging Thomas Piketty!)

There are some other ideas on the demographic side. Women are still dramatically underrepresented in the workforce in many countries. (One WEF study estimates it will take 81 more years for global gender parity at the current rate of change—argh!) Putting more of them to work could help a lot with growth; indeed, Warren Buffet once suggested to be that the federal government should provide inexpensive, partly federally funded child care to allow other women to take jobs higher up the food chain, this boosting economic growth. A win win.

Of course, this requires governments to take the lead on what can be politically contentious policy decisions, not easy when most politicians spend much of their terms trying to get reelected. Unfortunately short-termism is rife in the private sector too. CEO tenures are now five years on average and CFOs only last 3. All of which tends to lead to decision-making that benefits corporate compensation more than real economic growth.

Depressing, I know. But I saw one ray of hope when I ran into an emerging market CEO outside the panel, one who runs a family business that does planning in 10- to 20-year cycles rather than quarterly, investing quite a lot in areas like training and education. McKinsey research shows these types of firms will make up the biggest chunk of new global multinationals. Perhaps they can take the long view and come up with some better ideas about how to ensure global growth for the future.

TIME Davos

How Technology Is Making All of Us Less Trusting

A technician checks the light in the Congress Hall before the start of the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2014 in Davos Jan. 21, 2014
Denis Balibouse / Reuters

The world's major tech companies better pay attention to the growing backlash — before it's too late

Davos Man, take note: the technology that has enriched you is moving too fast for the average Joe.

That’s the takeaway from the 2015 Trust Barometer survey, released by public relations firm Edelman every year at the World Economic Forum in Davos. This year’s survey, which came out Wednesday, looks at thousands of consumers in 27 countries to get a sense of public trust in business, government, NGOs and media. This year, it’s falling across the board, with two-thirds of nations’ citizens being more distrustful than ever of all institutions, perhaps no surprise given that neither the private nor the public sector seems to have answers to the big questions of the day — geopolitical conflict, rising inequality, flat wages, market volatility, etc.

What’s interesting is how much people blame technology and the speed of technological change for the feeling of unease in the world today. Two to one, consumers in all the countries surveyed felt that technology was moving too quickly for them to cope with, and that governments and business weren’t doing enough to assess the long-term impact of shifts like GMO foods, fracking, disruptors like Uber or Apple Pay, or any of the myriad other digital services that affect privacy and security of people and companies.

That belies the conventional wisdom among tech gurus like, say, Jeff Bezos, who once said that, “New inventions and things that customers like are usually good for society.” Maybe, but increasingly people aren’t feeling that way. And it could have an impact on the regulatory environment facing tech companies. Expect more pushback on sharing-economy companies that skirt local regulation, a greater focus on the monopoly power of mammoth tech companies, and closer scrutiny of the personal wealth of tech titans themselves.

Two of the most interesting pieces of journalism I have read in recent years look at how the speed of digital change is affecting culture and public sentiment. Kurt Andersen’s wonderful Vanity Fair story from January 2012, posited the idea that culture is stuck in retro mode — think fashion’s obsession with past decades, and the nostalgia that’s rife in TV and film — because technology and globalization are moving so fast that people simply can’t take any more change, cognitively at least. Likewise, Leon Wieseltier’s sharp essay on the cover of the New York Times book review this past Sunday lamented how the fetishization of all things Big Tech has led us to focus on the speed, brevity and monetization of everything, to the detriment of “deep thought” and a broader understanding of the human experience.

I agree on both counts. And I hope that some of the tech luminaries here at Davos, like Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt and Sheryl Sandberg, are paying attention to this potential growing backlash, which I expect will heat up in the coming year.

TIME Davos

Thought Leaders at Davos See Opportunities in 2015

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attends a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on Jan. 21, 2015 in Davos, Switzerland.
Farice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attends a session of the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting on Jan. 21, 2015 in Davos, Switzerland.

Amid global crises thought leaders find reasons to be hopeful

A number of pressing crises loom over this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting currently taking place in Davos—including the tumbling price of oil, an upcoming election in Greece that could deliver a blow to a still fragile European Union and the recent terrorist attacks in Paris—but the event also provides the world’s thought leaders with an opportunity to discuss reasons to be hopeful in the coming year.

That was the focus of a lunch discussion hosted by TIME on Wednesday, during which participants identified global bright spots in the fields of science and technology. The event, moderated by TIME Editor Nancy Gibbs, featured portrait photographer Platon; Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn; Jennifer Doudna, professor of chemistry and of molecular and cell biology at the University of California, Berkeley; and France Cordova, Director of the National Science Foundation.

Gibbs opened the event by noting that journalists at TIME cover the challenges and crises the world faces, “but if we don’t also look at progress, at the quiet or noisy explosions of creativity, of innovation, of invention, then we’re going to miss the story.”

Cordova, an astrophysicist who was previously President of Purdue University in Indiana, spoke about the importance of the National Science Foundation’s role in funding what she called “basic” research. “All innovation is based on discovery,” she told the gathering, adding that she expected “breakthroughs to be made in our understanding of the 95% of the universe that we don’t know about.”

Hoffman’s hope for the coming year centered on the digital currency, Bitcoin, which he said could open up the advantages of banking to regions of the world that do not yet benefit from the banking system. He envisaged Bitcoin’s potential impact on the developed world also; for example, the currency might make easier all financial transactions related to driving, including paying tolls and paying for parking. “Bitcoin will either be a total failure or it’ll be a success and I think we want it to be a success,” he said.

Doudna, a celebrated biologist and biotech entrepreneur who, along with her colleagues, made major progress in something called CRISPR/Cas9—a technique for editing genes that his widely recognized as a game-changer in medicine, said that she hoped to see artists and scientists work together more, in part to help scientists explain their work better.

Platon, a British photographer who has shot numerous cover images for TIME and other magazines, told of how he met with former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden in a Moscow hotel room—where Platon shot Snowden’s portrait—and how Snowden resisted labels when Platon asked him if he was a patriot or a traitor. “Don’t get bogged down with labels. Don’t get bogged down with picking teams,” Platon said Snowden told him.

The photographer then offered his wish for the year ahead: “Perhaps what I hope will happen in this year is that people will come together, that people will be less frightened of each other. We need to celebrate the shared experience of enhancing different ideas and perhaps we might learn from someone who thinks differently.”

TIME Davos

Ukrainian President Pleads for Western Aid at Davos

The president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko speaks with a piece of a damaged passenger bus hit by a shell that killed twelve passengers and injured 13 others at a Ukrainian military checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha, during a panel session on the first day of the 45th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Jan. 21, 2015.
Laurent Gillieron—EPA The president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko speaks with a piece of a damaged passenger bus hit by a shell that killed twelve passengers and injured 13 others at a Ukrainian military checkpoint near the town of Volnovakha, during a panel session on the first day of the 45th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Jan. 21, 2015.

Poroshenko channels Charlie Hebdo in an emotional speech in Switzerland

In the middle of his speech on Wednesday at the World Economic Forum, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko left the podium, walked to the edge of the stage and took a large hunk of metal from a man in the audience. It was a shrapnel-scarred panel from a public bus, Poroshenko explained, that was hit by a rocket on Jan. 13 near the Ukrainian town of Volnovakha, killing 13 of its passengers and wounding more than a dozen others.

“For me this is a symbol, a symbol of the terrorist attack against my country, the same way it is a symbol like Charlie Hebdo,” he said, referring to the French satirical weekly whose staff were massacred inside their newsroom on Jan. 9 by Islamist terrorists. Then Poroshenko pointed to a pin on his lapel that was inscribed with the words, ‘Je suis Volnovakha.’

The link he drew between these two tragedies was not an obvious one. The journalists of Charlie Hebdo were killed in a deliberate act of religious extremism, motivated by the newspaper’s publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet of Islam. The passengers on the bus at Volnovakha were accidental casualties in a war that has already claimed almost 5,000 lives, most of them civilians. But Poroshenko needed to make that connection, not just to strike a chord with his audience of economists, investors and officials from around the world, but to push back against what Poroshenko later called “Ukrainian fatigue.”

By that he meant the growing wariness in the West with the Ukrainian crisis, and for Poroshenko’s government, it is nearly as dangerous as Russia’s military incursions. Nine months have passed since the war in Ukraine’s eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk began, and there is still no clear prospect for a resolution. Despite the terms of a peace deal signed on Sept. 5, Russia has refused to close its border with Ukraine to the flow of weapons and reinforcements for the rebel militias. Indeed, just this week, Ukraine again raised the alarm over hundreds of Russian troops coming across the border to aid the rebels in a fresh assault.

But those developments have made far fewer headlines than they would have even a few weeks ago, before the world’s attention turned to the more shocking and immediate news from Paris and the threat from terrorism emanating from the Middle East. Already, it seems, Ukrainian fatigue is setting in and forcing Poroshenko to curb some of his hopes for Western support.

During his speech at the Davos forum, the President said that Ukraine is no longer asking for weapons supplies and other “lethal aid” from the West to help fight the conflict, even though that was one of Poroshenko’s key requests when he visited Washington in September to meet with President Barack Obama and other top U.S. officials.

His expectations for financial aid, however, seemed undimished in Davos. “We need a financial pillow [that] can support us during the reforms,” he said in his speech. On top of the $17 billion bailout that Ukraine secured in April from the International Monetary Fund, Poroshenko’s government needs about $15 billion more to plug a gap in its finances that could lead to bankruptcy if it continues to grow. A mission from the IMF has been in Kiev since Jan. 8, to review the possibility of providing that support, and in Davos on Wednesday, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said she would back a bigger funding program for Ukraine, though she did not provide any specific figures.

For Poroshenko, securing that aid will not just mean carrying out the steep budget cuts and other financial reforms that have come as a condition of IMF loans. He will also need to keep sympathy for Ukraine from fading in the minds of his Western counterparts and the taxpayers they represent. His rhetoric in Davos seemed geared to that purpose.

“We are fighting for European security. We are fighting for European values,” he said in his speech. “Somebody said that this is very expensive to fight for peace… They measured expenses by price and said that it is very expensive. We and all the civilized world are fighting for values,” he concluded. But now, as the war in Ukraine drags on, it will be up to Western lenders to judge how much support those values will be worth.

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