WEF 2019: Portraying the vision of a brighter future for all South Africans

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CAPE TOWN – This year being his “DecaDavos” Sekunjalo’s executive chairperson Dr Iqbal Survé has seen how the World Economic Forum (WEF) has evolved to a multi stakeholder gathering for international captains of industry, from business moguls to arts and cultural leaders.

Dr Survé has served and continues to serve on numerous WEF advisory boards and councils. These include being appointed in 2017 as a Steward and Director of the Stewardship Council for media, information and technology, one of the important WEF Councils.

He has also served as the co-chairperson of the global growth companies and vice chairperson of the global agenda council for emerging multinationals as well as being a sought-after speaker and a panellist contributor to WEF meetings.

Until recently he was the chairperson of the South African chapter of the BRICS Business Council and president of the five-member BRICS countries during his South African chairpersonship.

WEF 2019, which kicks off tomorrow, brings together more than 3 000 leaders from business, government, civil society, academia, arts and culture and media, as well as the foremost experts and young leaders from all over the world.

The theme for this year’s gathering is “Globalisation 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)”.

Dr Survé took time out before heading for Davos to share his thoughts on the top 10 priorities for South Africa and Sekunjalo.

Priorities for South Africa:

1. To be an ambassador for South Africa: “Davos represents an important opportunity to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) into South Africa, with large corporations taking part. Capital investment is key and in the 10 years that I have been attending WEF, I have relentlessly pursued the story of a country that is worth investing in.

“Another important factor is to change the narrative about South Africa and position the country as a good investment opportunity. It is FDI, with a focus on stimulating the economy, that will lead to job creation as well as develop our cities.

“Foreign portfolio investments have grown substantially by more than 6 percent annually over the last decade. Most other emerging economies experienced the opposite, with FDI outgrowing portfolio investments. In order to reach the goals of the National Development Plan 2030 South Africa will have to attract FDI of at least 6 percent annually to achieve a sustainable economic growth rate of the targeted 7 percent per annum, and to reduce the unemployment rate to at least 12 percent from the current 26.5 percent.”

2. To attract technology partners: “There is no beating back the rapid advancements of our age. 4IR will not be held back because we fear job losses. Rather the imperative is for us as business leaders to look at how technology can be managed to grow jobs and the economy. We need to develop an understanding of the advancements in technology, artificial intelligence and other developments as well as the impact of this on the economy and growth and development of our country and our responses as business leaders.

“Without effective governance and retraining of workers, technology may destroy more jobs than it creates at a time when cash-strapped governments can no longer afford historical levels of welfare.”

3. To overcome poverty and unemployment: “We need to develop multi-stakeholder economic models allowing growth to overcome poverty and unemployment. We should take this opportunity to address income inequality through job creation.

“Job growth in South Africa has stalled and the responsibility is not only that of the government. The responsibility rests with the business community in its smart and prudent choices to stimulate the economy and unlock jobs.

“The only way to create sustainable economic growth and job creation is to attract sustainable FDI in industries such as the automotive, beneficiation of minerals, agri-processing, black industrialisation, alternative energy, infrastructure and logistics and telecommunication sectors.”

4. A united vision for South Africa: “We go to WEF 2019 as a united South Africa to represent the country in the context of political challenges. We have to present a united vision for South Africa, with the South African business community behind a positive story of South Africa as an attractive investment opportunity.

“Business leaders attending Davos have to subscribe to the same WhatsApp group, that of a South Africa that is positive about its future, focused on growth and development and trying to steer a new course after decades of disenfranchisement.

“The story of South Africa that we tell at Davos must be one of this country being one of the leading financial hubs in the emerging market sphere, with one of the best and sophisticated banking systems in the world.

“South Africa offers world class tourism destinations, a growing young population, vast amounts of scarce mineral resources such as platinum, palladium, iron ore, as well as a logistical network supporting trade to Africa and the rest of the world, with ports, airports and main road infrastructure and logistical warehousing.

5. BRICS++ partnerships to consolidate partnerships: “Since its inception in 2013, the BRICS Business Council has been instrumental in fostering the group’s spirit of mutual respect and understanding, equality, solidarity and co-operation.

“Representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa at a BRICS Business Council meeting last year agreed on the importance of ensuring greater economic, trade and investment ties.

“The three major focus areas are fostering entrepreneurship among the youth, skills development for 4IR as well as agriculture and food security.”

Priorities for Sekunjalo:

6. Connect with old friends and make new friends: “Partnerships worth exploring could be, as an example with Will-i-am who is part of the purpose-driven group, Black Eyed Peas. The former two were recognised for their efforts to improve the lives of young people through conflict resolution and early childhood education. It is well-known that African youth are the most marginalised in the world. Shakira and Whitaker are doing good in terms of philanthropy through their respective foundations.”

7. Strengthening multi-investment partnerships: “Sekunjalo is the shareholder and partner to Siemens, Saab, British Telecoms and Nokia on the African continent. We need to focus on cementing such multi-investment partnerships that are invested in Africa.

“Davos is what you get out of it. My interests are in the well-being of people and how we can make the world a better place. When I am at Davos or other WEF meetings, I look for partnerships in all spheres. Partnerships that will benefit the continent, my country and its people.”

8. Forge tech investor partnerships: “WEF provides an opportunity to forge technology investor partnerships and strengthen relationships.

“While there are a number of meetings, discussion forums, events and networking sessions, there are also invite-only events. It is at these events where technological innovations are discussed and how it could be used for the betterment of humankind. While many are hesitant about 4IR, there are technological advances, using artificial intelligence giving millions of people access to credible health information.”

9. To Identify top trends in investor companies: “The impact of robotics, the internet of things, gene splicing and artificial intelligence is something we cannot leave to fate. These are future trends which we need not ignore, but address in order to protect jobs while developing our companies.

“The notion that people go to Davos to be seen and just walk away without making a contribution, or seeing a change in themselves doesn’t work. It is a place for networking, hearing what people have to say and meeting experts. Panellists come from a cross-section of society and partnerships are born.”

10. Deal with social impact and philanthropy: “Doing good business through responsive and responsible business leadership. We need to incentivise and unlock public investment ensuring systemic reform and long-term sustainability. African philanthropy is nothing more than bringing the private and public sector together to pool resources.

“To have the greatest impact, we also need to build government capacity and shape stronger national systems that can sustain progress. The moral imperative is not enough. Without robust systems and government commitments, we are in danger of just funding an ideology.

“The idea is not to just focus on creating wealth, but also to spread the wealth. It’s important that we are able to help the less privileged through investment,” said Dr Survé.

This article first appeared on BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE