For the second year, the INSEAD Hoffmann Global Institute for Business and Society co-sponsored the SDG Tent alongside the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos in January 2020. The SDG Tent sponsors put sustainability into focus with discussions that explore sustainable solutions in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With support from InTent and André Hoffmann, INSEAD convened three sessions focused on issues facing leaders today.
Reflecting the WEF 2020 theme of Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World, INSEAD at Davos sessions in the SDG Tent discussed the powerful potential and blind spots of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and global inequality. Attended by more than 300 people, the sessions unpacked segments of these large topics with academic research and brought new insights and ideas to the fore. The SDG Tent was open to all and INSEAD welcomed diverse voices from businesses, NGOs, foundations and international organisations, all contributing to the conversation.
SDGs & AI for Good
INSEAD at Davos kicked off with the January 22 launch of the Global Talent Competitiveness Index, or GTCI, which this year focused on Global Talent in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. Produced by INSEAD Senior Affiliate Professor Felipe Monteiro and Executive Director of Global Indices Bruno Lanvin in partnership with the Adecco Group and Google, the 7th edition of the GTCI covers 132 countries and 155 cities. High-income countries continue to dominate the rankings, with Switzerland at #1 followed by the United States at #2 and Singapore at #3. Felipe Monteiro reflected that some emerging countries are “falling behind in the war for talent”, while Bruno Lanvin stressed that ‘without the required ethical and regulatory frameworks, AI may increase the digital divide between rich and poor’.
This year, the GTCI also addressed how talent can serve the SDGs and reduce inequalities. The GTCI launch was followed by a panel on how AI contributes to the SDGs. Addressing the need to tackle the digital literacy challenge, a key component of the global effort to bridge the digital divide, International Telecommunication Union’s Secretary General, Houlin Zhao voiced that, “as new technologies like AI emerge, public, private and civil society leaders need to come together to give people, including our young generation, the necessary digital skills to succeed in the digital economy.” Sharing the possibility of harnessing this new technology for good, Google’s Head of Government Affairs and Public Policy for Europe, Annette Kroeber-Riel, weighed in and said, “We see both huge opportunities and challenges for AI. AI is helping us tackle global challenges, challenges that often were previously considered intractable, from detecting breast cancer to hyperlocal forecasts of rainfall. At the same time, we need to consider and anticipate the consequences … we need to take action to harness the power of AI for good, while guarding against negative consequences.”
One of the SDGs is creating decent work and increasing employment opportunities. AI can produce fear of job loss, and skills acquisition is a solution with the potential to keep talent relevant and employable. “As the adoption of AI moves beyond hype, current education and skills acquisition will be transformed, implying that formal and informal learning structures will evolve… This emphasises the critical role of vocational training and lifelong learning in the workforce of the future,” said Frida Polli, Founder and CEO of Pymetrics. The panel observed that while the need for re-skilling is evident, unknowns include how to execute this transition or what skills to focus on.
Alain Dehaze, CEO of the Adecco Group said, “Companies need to look at the skills gap to re-skill employees and their prospective talent to fulfil their strategic ambitions.” But then added, “Very few companies actually know what kind of skills they will need in five years”. The robust discourse featured insights, experiences and potential solutions – from re-skilling in the face of AI to addressing talent gaps in GTCI-identified emerging markets and accounting for unpaid work by women and girls.
Balancing AI Productivity and Responsibility
The second INSEAD session also addressed AI, reflecting on the development and regulation of AI – its potential for productivity and impact on society. Decision-makers examined how regulators and businesses should balance the productivity gains, ethical challenges and new risks of AI. Led by Professor Theodoros Evgeniou and moderated by Deputy Dean Peter Zemsky, the panel conversation explored the multi-disciplinary and multi-faceted challenges posed by AI.
Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, Chairman and CEO of Sinovation Ventures and author of the bestselling book “AI Superpowers”, put the discussion into context by stating, “AI is an omni-use technology, which means it is applicable to basically everything”. Agreeing on the potential of AI, and especially in domains with large amounts of data, the Managing Director and Head of Centre for the World Economic Forum 4th Industrial Revolution & Global Network, Murat Sönmez, stressed the importance of balance between values and access to data to create social or environmental impact. “We can see AI as the operating system for the SDGs. It’s an operating system but it needs to be governed as an operating system,” he said.
President of Microsoft Brad Smith succinctly explained the dual nature of AI: "This technology is not just important and powerful, but also raises a host of issues because it can be used for good and for bad. Which is why it is extremely important to use an ethical underpinning as a framework."
Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation for Rwanda, shared four pillars of a framework that seeks to balance responsibility and productivity:
- Transparency – Educating people on the use of data and its benefits
- Inclusion – Making AI representative of the world’s diversity issues
- Human-centricity – Ensuring technology creates and does not replace opportunities for people
- Governance – Creating a good way of administration around AI and its uses
Professor Evgeniou stressed the importance of approaching AI in a holistic way, considering multiple aspects ranging from regulation, corporate governance, organizational change, skills, but also the specifics of the technology itself as well as philosophical issues. He outlined important research and development endeavours that need to be undertaken in all these dimensions, many of them in a globally coordinated way.
Managing Inequality Together
The final exceptionally warm and sunny day of the WEF was also the final day of INSEAD at Davos, this time taking on an issue often seen as a barrier to social progress, wealth inequality. While many agree that growing inequality worldwide is an issue, there are various suggestions on the possible solutions and on who should implement them – business leaders or policy makers. The INSEAD James M. and Cathleen D. Stone Centre for the Study of Wealth Inequality convened a discussion designed to ensure better communication between public and private sector leaders by making sure they do not talk past one another. The Centre’s Academic Director, INSEAD Professor of Economics Mark Stabile, led a structured discussion that raised suggestions on how to curb inequality.
Building on the findings of the latest Oxfam inequality report, Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India, stated that “inequality needs to be looked at from multiple lenses.”
Paul Polman, co-founder and chair of IMAGINE shared insights regarding why the economic system is no longer working as effectively as it should and highlighted the stark contrast of inequality in today’s world. “The rich now live on little islands of prosperity in a sea of poverty,” he stated. Polman also pointed out that business needs to assume more responsibility, not only out of accountability but also because it is beneficial for business. Pointing towards a possible answer, he said, “The solution is trust. We need to trust and the biggest destroyer of trust – both social and institutional – is inequality.”
The top takeaways for INSEAD from the WEF 2020 are clear. Davos is an opportunity to get the right people in the room and move the needle on pressing issues facing the world. With an aim to align business and business education with the global sustainability goals, INSEAD at Davos sessions are both a valuable resource for the school and for the leaders we bring together. As we enter a crucial decade of action for the SDGS, the Institute will continue to convene conversations and push for research-based solutions that contribute to better outcomes across business and society.