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From the headlines you would think Davos was mostly doom and gloom and blaming the bankers (and rough talk from Putin and between PM Erdogan of Turkey and Peres of Israel). Development was less visible this year than ever. As Simon Maxwell observed: No Bono. No Jeff Sachs. No Zoellick. (Although Kofi Annan was there, with wisdom aplenty on Africa's Progress and underfunded agricultural research for Africa.
Though less visible, development did figure prominently behind the scenes -- more so than ever. At private sessions and meals, dozens of initiatives to improve the lives of the poor in poor countries, many set up as corporate-NGO partnerships, were planned and discussed: to provide bednets, clean water, clean energy, de-worming in schools, laptops, ARVs and services for AIDS orphans, micro-saving and health insurance, food and nutrition and more. You could argue that the anti-globalization fervor of the late 1990s (with globalization figuratively on its knees there were no visible demonstrations at Davos this year), has yielded a rich harvest of CSR -- NGO collaborative anti-poverty action, with CEO Davos Man (and Woman) fully engaged in making globalization inclusive and sustainable. (Will this energy and passion be sustained as the global economic crisis unfolds?)
Yet I find myself frustrated. On the one hand there was the macro; on the other the micro. In between there was little discussion (as far as I know) of the "system" failures that frustrate development at what might be called the meso level within developing countries. Examples abound: highly centralized and inflexible school systems (where laptops are used for lighting not learning), unfunded agricultural extension (so new seeds and better fertilizer go unused), imported price distortions (cheap corn and rice subsidized abroad that undermine agricultural investment at home), political inability to tax the local rich (since capital easily flees to tax havens abroad), brown-outs and lack of credit that undermine small enterprise competitiveness in global markets -- the list goes on.
These sectoral and policy problems, particularly those provoked by action or inaction in the world of Davos Man and Woman, are less obviously a target for CSR initiatives, until and unless more of Bill Gates's creative capitalism is unleashed. Maybe next year...
CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.