The Soul of Davos: Oxymoron?

By Margaret Benefiel 02-04-2010


In past years, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, focused primarily on business and politics as usual. Any talk of the World Economic Forum's soul would have fizzled quickly.

But this year, in its 40th gathering of 2,500 international VIPs, something different happened. Sobered by the global economic crisis, business and government leaders focused on values. Furthermore, moral leadership stood front and center at the conference.

Faith and moral leaders, usually relegated to minor roles, were featured in an opening panel, "Re-Thinking Values in the Post-Crisis World." Jim Wallis and Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus joined business and academic leaders on the panel moderated by Deloitte chief Jim Quigley to discuss how the loss of values helped cause the economic meltdown and how those lost values could be restored.

Government leaders continued on the theme of values. In his keynote address, French president Nicolas Sarkozy asked, "How can we return the economy to the service of mankind? How can we act to ensure that the economy no longer appears as an end itself, but as a means to an end?" Sarkozy claimed, "We can only save capitalism by rebuilding it, by restoring its moral dimension. What do we need, in the end, if it is not rules, principles, a governance that reflects shared values, a common morality?"

Subsequent speakers called for a sustainable economy, for an end to speculative greed. Tougher banking regulations were discussed repeatedly. In an important unscheduled meeting near the end of the conference, U. S. and European government regulators, finance ministers, and central bankers presented their plans for financial reform to bank executives.

In the final session, WEF founder Klaus Schwab called business and economic leaders to focus on values and social responsibility.

As usual at Davos, discussions weren't easy. Speakers proposed different ways forward and participants debated them vigorously. But what was different about Davos this year was the place that values held in the debates, as ethics and morality came up again and again.

Remarkably, in 2010, to speak of Davos' soul is no longer oxymoronic. The world economic crisis has awakened leaders to the importance of placing values at the center of discussions about the economy. May world business and government leaders take their cue from Davos and continue the conversations, giving values a central role in their debates.

portrait-margaret-benefielMargaret Benefiel, Ph.D., author of Soul at Work and The Soul of a Leader, works with leaders in health care, business, churches, government, and nonprofits to help them stay true to their souls. Visit her Web site.

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