Reflections from World Government Summit 2022 (Day 1)



The first day of the World Government Summit was exciting as usual! It was at the tag end of the COVID pandemic and hopefully the end of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. This gave us a glimpse of the worries, the hopes and the advice key leaders had from the countries represented. It was clear there was a difference in perceptions of politics and diplomacy between the west and the east. It ranged from climate change, aviation, energy, currency (USD), and technology. A key message was that human-centered design was applicable to tech (AI), government experiences, policy-making, and diplomacy!


The WGS was held at the World Expo 2022. This is a memorable event as Expo managed to open during the pandemic thanks to the tremendous effort by Dubai and UAE in health, aviation, and trade. On top of that UAE has been a mega-humanitarian logistics center! Sometimes what is not being spoken about is the loudest message of all.


There were five key messages I took away:


1. Government values matter: the strength of a country will come to the friends it can call on at times of trouble (soft power). The test is do you walk the talk (legitimacy and how well you deliver public value).

2. Governments need systemic thinking: The crises we face are unpredictable in timing and impact. We know these crisis can exists but the ability to see the spillover of a key event and its mitigation is the type of preparedness we need for the future.

3. Governments need to be able to make time and create safe spaces for dialogue: WGS provides such a place and it was amazing to see frank and open dialogue on topics important to the world. This in hindsight would help better collaboration and response to the pressing global issues we face.

4. Governments need to be arbitrators of tech: Technology is to augment human capability not replace it. The governments that defaulted to a decision made by tech may in the long run find themselves with a lack of the ability to “imagine” and reimagine futures.

5. Governments need to enable more women leaders: I may be biased but I found women had more relevant messages, were able to speak with heart and head and knew their fields well.


Some interesting dialogues

“What would you do if one of your members did not conform to the ethics and morals that other members espoused,” this was the question poised in two panels to intergovernmental organizations like OPEC (and OPEC+) and IMF. Both OPEC (HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al Saud, Minister of Energy, KSA and HE Suhail bin Mohammed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, UAE) and IMF (HE Kristalina Georgieva, MD) representatives answered that their organizations were a place for discussions that were free from geopolitical tensions. For me the key take-away is that we need safe, neutral spaces for dialogue. To de-escalate tensions. After all, leaders are human. No one wants loss of life! No one wants instability in their region. As HE Kristalina Georgieva reminded us – the fragility of supply chains is our next crisis.


In a similar vein, non-NATO countries reminded NATO countries of their history together. They reiterated that they knew how to handle affairs in their geographic area, did not need to be told what to do, and said what they wanted from their counterparts was their trust. They explained that it is not a question of peace on one front at the expense of peace on another front. For example, OPEC included Iraq, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia even when there is and was an upheaval.

HE Dr. Anwar bin Mohammed Gargesh, Diplomatic Advisor to President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan highlighted that speed was critical in resolving the latest geopolitical crisis to prevent horizontal and vertical escalation. This thinking was reinforced by the brilliant women in the sessions (and there were too few on this day). As Dr. Pippa Mamgren, Economist and former US Presidential Advisor reminded the audience that it was Otto von Bismark that had said - “Diplomacy is the art of building ladders to allow people to climb down gracefully.” She reiterated that it was a worry that the Ukraine and Russia crisis(spilling into Belarus) would escalate food insecurity and increase space warfare. Gerd Leonhard, the futurist, stressed that those who would own the future were not the biggest or baddest but the friendliest and those that knew to collaborate.


In another talk on tech, Dr. George Friedman, Founder of Geopolitical Futures, highlighted the military's role in developing new tech and stressed that the USA’s ability to excel in innovation was because the government gave these types of tech free to the private sector. Gerd Leonhard highlighted that technology was being developed for the betterment of humans, and we need to move away from efficiency as a metric. He saw the role of governments as arbitrators between science and technology and the needs of people. He said, “Human Inside” needs to be the hallmark of all tech. This phrase means we should embrace values and human aspirations in innovations. IBM Chairman and CEO Arvind Krishna stressed that the move to AI also needs deliberation “The problem with bias and errors in historical data is that AI will reproduce those errors and bias exponentially.”

According to Gerd, future foresight will continue to be significant, and HE Ann Linde, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sweden, stressed that the future would be about “risk after risk.” Bob Kolasky Chair of the OECD High Risk Forum, noted that all the risks are systemic and the challenge is anticipating and mitigating risks. The President of Estonia, HE Kersti Kaljulaid, highlighted that the combination of digital and data could skew public opinion (like we see with social media). However, we are not prepared to identify, attribute and control such misinformation. Bruce Pon, Founder, reiterated the digital divide where few owned the source code and the majority gave their data free for monetization. Governments, there is lots of work for us to do!


The need for systemic thinking is a running theme. For example in one session on energy and carbon, much of the discussion was on carbon and competitiveness or trade. Not really about biodiversity, circular economy, or the human element. Zoe Knight, the Group Head for Sustainable Finance, explained that being sustainable is more than ESG – we need better focus on other elements like Social and Planet Biodiversity.


Looking forward to Day 2.