Given the heavy snowfall and significant traffic on the way to Davos this year, it became apparent that opting for the hour's helicopter flight from Geneva was a practical choice. As we prepared to board, I met our pilots, Hans and Michael, two youthful gentlemen seemingly in their twenties. The helicopter's journey through deep layers of thick clouds, flying past the breathtaking, snow-capped peaks of the Swiss Alps, was a moment of reflection. Trusting our safety to these two relatively young and unknown pilots and believing that they knew how to navigate the mountainous regions full of peaks and valleys covered in clouds resonated deeply with the overarching theme of the World Economic Forum 2024: Rebuilding Trust.
If the first major theme at WEF 24 was about rebuilding trust, the second was about the rise of India.
Let's start with defining trust. It is the fundamental element that significantly impacts societal operations. It facilitates smoother interactions and cooperation both among individuals and between individuals and nations. Highlighting the impact of trust, Professor John Whitney of Columbia Business School remarked, "Distrust doubles the cost of doing business." This profound statement underscores the challenge that the world now faces. While it is hard to quantify the cost of mistrust, it is evident that the increasing lack of trust amongst global political leaders is now imposing a massive direct toll across the globe.
And in my discussions this year with a diverse group of global political leaders, business executives, and media influencers, I observed a striking consensus, transcending geographical and ideological boundaries. The focus has quickly shifted from Covid-19 to a more complex array of issues. It is hard to deny that the world is expected to stay preoccupied with increasing geopolitical divisions, escalating hostilities, and the rise of multiple conflicts, all contributing to a challenging global environment with no precedent.
Adding to this complexity, humanity is simultaneously tackling the decoupling of economies, climate change challenges, and the ethical use of Artificial Intelligence. In today's world, we are witnessing an ironic paradox. These very platforms that were designed for broadening understanding, exchanging ideas, and finding common ground are increasingly becoming the areas of polarization. This trend was visible even at the WEF, where diversity of thought is diminishing as evident from the lack of presence of a select set of nations that should have been a part of the dialogues.
In my view, we are up against a prolonged phase of transition that will be marked by deep uncertainty. This current environment of uncertainty will continue to create a fertile ground for the escalation and proliferation of conflicts. More than ever, the situation today underscores the critical need for enhanced multilateralism and international cooperation, which can be done only through the consensus emerging from global political leadership.
Now moving on to the theme of India, I had the opportunity to meet several corporate leaders, media thought leaders, and executives from the world's top financial institutions. The general consensus was that while India is well on its way to approaching the $30 trillion GDP target by 2050, it has the potential for even higher growth, given its young workforce. As expected, every discussion also touched upon the advent of technologies like AI and the possibility of this adding further momentum to India's growth. One of the discussions was around the exciting potential of India becoming the AI 'back office' of the world, something to watch for.
However, the most impactful theme that emerged in these discussions, aligning with the Rebuilding Trust theme of the conference, was India's dramatic social transformation over the past decade. India is increasingly seen as filling the social leadership vacuum globally.
One corporate leader spent most of our conversation eager to learn about the direct benefit transfer platform, enabled by the integration of Aadhar, the national ID system program, mobile phone access, and an astounding 500 million bank accounts. This system has not only increased government liquidity but has also empowered millions of Indians in the remotest areas to trust the system and receive benefits without middleman interference. The Unified Payment Platform (UPI), launched by the government less than a decade ago, has expanded, with several overseas markets now accepting UPI payments. The word he used to describe this was "unparalleled", in terms of inclusivity.
Given the focus on sustainability and its role in building trust among nations, the Solar Alliance platform, launched by the Hon'ble Prime Minister of India in 2015, was a key topic in many of my discussions. The goal to mobilize one trillion dollars in investments for solar energy solutions by 2030, aiming to provide clean energy access to one billion people through the installation of 1,000 GW of solar energy capacity, once seemed overly ambitious. Now, with the massive focus on sustainability and the success of COP 28, it appears more achievable than ever. What started as a 16-member initiative is now a 117-member force.
And, of course, the G20 summit, where global leaders adopted the New Delhi Leaders' Declaration (covering the topics of climate change, health, trade, digital economy, terrorism, and women empowerment), came up with almost all leaders telling me that this was the best G20 ever. One of the most remarkable achievements of the summit was the inclusion of the African Union as a permanent member of the G20, a move initiated by India. This decision is a historic milestone for Africa and the broader Global South, strengthening our collective voice and representation to have trust in global governance and decision-making.
As I leave Davos, I reflect on the thought that this is what Rebuilding Trust should be all about. Patriotic as it may sound, India's message and the actions it has taken resonate with the spirit of multilateralism and inclusiveness, perhaps like no other nation today. This was the Davos where my fellow countrymen in attendance would have left with their heads a little higher than usual. No better time to be an Indian!
(Gautam Adani is Chairman, Adani Group)
Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.
(Disclaimer: New Delhi Television is a subsidiary of AMG Media Networks Limited, an Adani Group Company.)