By Paul Smyke, Head of the Regional Agenda, North America, World Economic Forum
This week President Donald J. Trump was the opening speaker at the 50th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. In so doing, he, and the delegation of five cabinet members and other senior officials who accompanied him, continued a bipartisan tradition that dates to the mid-1980s.
In the past 35 years, the list of US government leaders who came to Davos and other World Economic Forum events reassuringly points to a US political class, irrespective of party affiliation, that recognizes the value and need to actively engage with the world.
The roster of attendees during that period includes nearly 100 House and Senate Members, 18 Governors, dozens of cabinet members, the heads of every major independent agency, as well as three Presidents and three Vice-Presidents. Many of these became regular attendees, so these numbers don’t tell the whole story. John Kerry, for example, attended many times as a US Senator and for four years as Secretary of State.
What the numbers do reveal is an ideologically diverse and bipartisan group of political leaders, whose main priority was to leverage the World Economic Forum platform to communicate a message and vision of US foreign and domestic policy, and just as important, take the pulse of what preoccupies the rest of the world – the weak signals that may foretell a bigger challenge down the road.
One of the dominant stories this week in Davos was “stakeholder capitalism,” a concept the Forum started sharing almost since its founding. It refers to the need for companies to consider the interests of a broad group of constituents, far beyond their direct shareholders. The US Business Roundtable issued a statement last summer embracing these same principals.
With the political fault-lines we currently see in the US, it’s high-time for leaders to adapt a new framework in which to govern: Stakeholder Politics.
Regardless who is sworn-in as president next January, the deep trenches that divide us today as a country won’t be bridged by having more of the same old reflexive, race-to-the-bottom behavior that often dominates in Washington, D.C.
Stakeholder Politics is not a panacea. But if corporate chiefs can move past their long-held orthodoxy that the bottom line of their shareholders is their sole metric, a similar adjustment in the minds of political leaders is equally essential. They must make decisions based on the input of a diverse and broad group of constituents, even – and perhaps especially – those with whom they disagree.
As the international organization for public-private collaboration, the World Economic Forum has been the catalyst for many ventures between stakeholders who often would barely manage to be in the same room, much less agree and collaborate together on a shared objective to improve the state of the world. It’s time for the political class in the US to take inspiration from that same spirit to understand that broad consultation rather than narrow self-interest offers the only meaningful way forward.