Why does South Africa join the World Economic Forum in Davos?


Every year Team South Africa joins the 2 500 high-level delegates to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss village of Davos. Brand South Africa CEO Miller Matola explains why this is important to solving the country’s problems.

World Economic Forum in DavosPreparations underway for the World Economic Forum’s 2015 annual meeting in Davos, which runs from 21 to 24 January. (Image: WEF)

Miller MatolaMiller Matola

From 21 to 24 January 2015 South Africa will again be represented at the World Economic Forum in Davos by a high-level multi-stakeholder team. Team South Africa, as we call this team, will bring to the 2 500 participants at the summit the message that South Africa is open for business and remains an attractive and reliable investment destination.

You may ask why this message has to be delivered physically, in an age where we can conveniently communicate across borders and oceans. Perhaps this will shed some light.

Davos: a melting pot of thought leadership and innovation

First, Davos brings together business leaders, senior government officials and policymakers, and social change advocates to tackle the biggest issues of our times: inequality, climate change, a sustainable economy, youth employment, underdevelopment and the global competitiveness of nations. Attending Davos does not necessarily result in agreements on cooperation and trade, but it does allow participants to have the right conversations about how to tackle these challenges. It brings minds together to respond to these challenges innovatively and creatively. After all, we cannot continue to do the same things to address stubbornly resistant problems and hope to get different results.

Doing things differently in the interests of growth and development

Despite our differences in tactics and approaches, I have no doubt that South Africans are fiercely committed to the growth and development of our country. We are increasingly cognizant that we must work together as a national collective to respond innovatively and urgently to the triple challenges of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment. History teaches us that multi-stakeholder approaches are necessary to create sustainable and durable solutions. Gatherings such as the World Economic Forum in Davos enable the formulation and implementation of such solutions.

It has become fashionable to talk about building a community of people to enable innovative solutions. There is also the term crowd sourcing and funding which talks to putting a problem out there and looking at the responses that follow to determine how to address it.

WEF Davos and other such platforms enable such a spirit of cooperation and community building. Such an approach to the complexities of common challenges is essential in this day and age.

Davos is not the United Nations

The World Economic Forum is not the United Nations, the International Criminal Court or any other multilateral institution that yields resolutions to respond to political and social challenges in the world. However, precisely because of the non-threatening, collaborative spirit of the World Economic Forum in Davos, it has been the site of many ground-breaking moments in history. There are many instances where actionable ideas to tackle global challenges of our time have emerged from the gatherings at this small Swiss village.

For instance, it was at Davos in 1992 that Nelson Mandela met with FW de Klerk in their first public appearance outside of South Africa. In addition, the presence of the Greek and Turkish leaders in 1988 led to the signing of the Davos Declaration, which averted war between the two countries. In 1994, Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat reached a draft agreement on Gaza and Jericho, again at Davos. The World Economic Forum at Davos has therefore been able to provide the environment for foes to come together in the interests of their countries and people. By providing such an environment the World Economic Forum in Davos is able to give expression to its motto: “Committed to improving the state of the world”.

What South Africa will take to the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos

South Africa will communicate on this global platform that South Africa is open for business.

We have challenges as a country – which country doesn’t? – but are committed to addressing them to improve the lives of our millions of citizens. The National Development Plan is part of our solution to the triple challenge of poverty, underdevelopment and unemployment.

We are also keen to welcome international partners who are supportive of our developmental agenda.

South Africa is a committed advocate of the African developmental agenda. Our fortunes are integrally intertwined with those of the continent and our growth and development must contribute to the overall competitiveness and reputation of Africa.

Team South Africa in Davos

Follow Team South Africa at WEF Davos on @Brand_SA #SAinDavos or @Brand_SA #CompetitiveSA.

Miller Matola is the CEO of Brand South Africa. Follow him on Twitter at @MillerMatola.