By
Andrew Stallybrass
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04 February, 2009

Andrew Stallybrass
Andrew Stallybrass
The World Economic Forum in Davos, that annual gathering of the world’s deciders in the little Swiss mountain resort, has just come to an end. There were smaller jets, fewer helicopters, less champagne and caviar. Considerably more humility, and less certainty. The only certainty that the experts can now predict is uncertainty!

Davos still provokes the usual not-too-violent demonstrations of those ‘third-worlders’ as they’re called here, last week in the streets of my city of Geneva, the headquarters of the World Trade Organization, another of their targets. It’s hard for demonstrators to get anywhere near Davos – raising an interesting question about the limits to the freedoms of citizens in a free society to express their views. Chinese residents in Europe were able to demonstrate their support for their leader as he arrived in the Grisons, whereas pro-Tibetan demonstrators were kept carefully far from view – raising an interesting question about the level of political sensitivity of the Forum’s organisers. With the Davos crowd still shell-shocked by a global financial crisis they didn’t foresee, the World Social Forum, held at exactly the same time in the Brazilian city of Belem, presented an alternative perspective on how to tackle environmental issues, social and international justice or the rights and needs of ‘first nation’ peoples.

This year, the bankers, stars of former Davos gatherings, were almost invisible. And there was a return to centre stage of the politicians, united in their determination to act together to avoid another Great Depression. My Swiss daily newspaper had a cartoon of an international panel of Davos speakers all pointing the finger of blame at each other – with the title of the seminar behind them ‘Who got us into this mess?’ It reminded me of the old Initiatives of Change song ‘When I point my finger at my neighbor, there are three more pointing back at me’. The Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Russian leader Vladimir Putin both enjoyed laying the blame for the world economic crisis squarely on the shoulders of the US, as if they had been living on another planet these last years. But beyond the blame game, there has been much talk of better governance, of reinforced controls, rules and laws, of lasting development, ecology, ethics and values. The discussions have ranged far beyond pure economics.

American theologian Jim Wallis challenges the commentators who are all asking ‘how long will the crisis last?’ A participant in Davos, he challenged: ‘The question we should be asking is how this global economic crisis will change us – all of us, in the way we think, decide things, and even do business. If we don't change our ways of doing business, the opportunity provided by the crisis will have been lost. Indeed, the only way to redeem this crisis is to allow it to change us, then all the pain and suffering might not have been in vain. The worst thing to ask each other at a World Economic Forum is how soon might we all get back to business as usual. This is a time to ask the most basic questions about business and about ourselves.’ (See: http://blog.sojo.net/2009/01/30/davos-how-will-this-crisis-change-us/)

Another interesting straw in the wind: the idea of a ‘Hippocratic oath’ for students of business studies, a ‘professional oath of honour’ to compare with the professional ethics of lawyers and doctors. Greed is no longer presented as good. (See: http://www.thunderbird.edu/wwwfiles/publications/eThunder/2006/july/eT70...) Our Swiss TV news noted the morose atmosphere at Davos, the thin pickings in terms of any concrete results, and concluded that perhaps the two forums should join forces.

The Caux Round Table (CRT), an international network of principled business leaders, has been working to promote a moral capitalism since long before the present crisis. The CRT advocates implementation of the CRT Principles for Business through which principled capitalism can flourish and sustainable and socially responsible prosperity can become the foundation for a fair, free and transparent global society. (See: http://www.cauxroundtable.org/principles.html)

And the Caux conference centre in Switzerland will host from 24 – 29 July 2009 a conference on ‘Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy – a people-focused approach to globalization’. The invitation opens: ‘We face difficult challenges in the global economy which at times seem hard to overcome; food shortages, crises in financial systems, the impact of climate change and rising energy costs are only a few. Trust and Integrity in the Global Economy believes that sustainable solutions will be led by nothing short of breakthrough thinking; a dynamic way of leading and of being, with trust and integrity at the core.’ (See: http://www.cauxbusiness.com/)

There is understandable anger at the greed of others – overpaid leaders of business and finance, those who got us into this mess. But we come back to Wallis’ challenge: how will this crisis change us? How can the thinking and living of millions of ordinary people match the challenge of our age – or are we and our systems condemned to disappear like the dinosaurs?

NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.

Andrew Stallybrass, a British writer and publisher, lives in Geneva with his Swiss wife.

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