As I make my way home back after spending nearly four days in Davos, Switzerland, I am sharing this personal reflection with Islamic Relief (IR) supporters and my followers around the world.

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos is one of the most important gatherings of business, political and social leaders in the world. Previous meetings here have helped shape global, regional, and economic agendas for several decades. This year around 70 heads of states, 340 ministers and over 3,000 participants from a variety of private and public sector groups were in attendance. Islamic Relief (IR) has been attending the event since 2005, when we were members of the Faith Based Forum that was co-chaired by His Excellency Prince Turki bin Faisal.

Humanitarianism, Finance and Technology

Islamic Relief attends this annual event in order to highlight its work, engage officials at the highest levels and learn about the latest technologies that can help with our humanitarian efforts. I am particularly interested in new technologies and how they can enhance our aid work.

One benefit that IR gains from attending these events is being exposed to the latest thinking in finance and technology that can help create efficiency and effectiveness in our aid delivery system. IR is always willing to use cutting-edge developments and we take calculated risks to launch initiatives that have not been adopted by our peers. I have been exploring the use of Sharia-compliant humanitarian bond and other risk transfer products with Social Impact Investors so that we can help respond to emergencies much more rapidly and efficiently by mobilising private capital up-front.

In 2016, IR was invited to be a member of the Global Future Councils (GFC) for a second consecutive year. The GFC is considered to be one of the world’s foremost interdisciplinary networks that is dedicated to promoting innovative thinking on global issues. Members of the GFC include companies such as MasterCard, DHL, Orange, and NGOs such as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). It is co-chaired by Peter Maurer (President of the ICRC) and Her Excellency Queen Rania of Jordan, where the aim is to improve public-private partnerships by focusing on digital transformation and humanitarian finances.

Several sessions at the WEF centred on how to deal with humanitarian crises as they become more complex and recurrent. The current way of financing emergencies is not sustainable and alternative methods of financing could be one solution. The ICRC launched its Humanitarian Impact Bond in September 2017 and raised over 20 million Euros which will be used to build three rehabilitation centres in Africa. Inventive funding streams and new mechanisms for delivery is something that could be explored by NGOs in the near-future.

Going forward

Overall, it was a busy four days in Davos. The majority of the events focussed on technology, and associated advantages, risks and governance issues. The WEF has setup a hub called the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution which will assess new technologies, its governance and related regulations. The centre will officially be launched in San Francisco in May 2018. Alongside this, the WEF has also setup the Global Centre for Cybersecurity – a clear indication that the challenges that come with new technologies have to be addressed concurrently.

World leaders such as Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May stressed the importance of embracing technology, but also stated that technology companies have to do a lot more to protect users. Protectionism was another concern for world leaders as most of them see it as a threat to globalisation which, despites its flaws, seems to be more beneficial than nationalistic tendencies.

Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, gave proceedings a different flavour as he presented his project for the eradication of malaria. He was optimistic that eradicating the disease by 2040 was possible, subject to finding new drugs to overcome resistance, bed nets, and data analytics tools.

The ongoing refugee crisis was also a concern to many leaders. The Prime Ministers of Italy and Greece admitted that in Europe there is a no coherent policy in dealing with the refugees. With both countries taking the lion’s share of the burden of this crisis, which is supposed to be shared equally amongst all European countries. The Vice President of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo, added that development aid has not worked in Africa. Long term investment that would create jobs is what is needed now and this would result in many young people stopping their attempts to migrate to Europe.

Key message

If there was one key message to take from the event, it would be that technology is taking over our lives. In many cases it is helping us to improve life quality, but it is still poorly governed and the public sector is well behind the private sector in embracing the latest technologies. Companies are investing heavily, but little investment is in place to up-skill current workforces. The impact of new technology on our workforce cannot be underestimated.

Our education systems need to be redesigned to prepare our children for different types of jobs that do not exist now but will be available in the future, and technology should be considered as a compulsory subject alongside Science, Maths and English.  I look forward to attending Davos 2019 and hopefully by then situation the world finds itself in will have improved.

Naser Haghamed