For the past week much of the world has been focused on the lurid details surrounding FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter. However, another Swiss-based organisation has been meeting in Cape Town: the World Economic Forum (WEF), based in Geneva, has been marking 25 years of change in Africa, gathering for the past three days under the theme, Then and Now: Reimagining Africa’s Future. Klaus Schwab who established the WEF as a non-profit organisation in 1971, believed the forum should “engage political, business, academic and other leaders of society in collaborative efforts to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”
On 2 February 1990, when the WEF convened in the mountaintop enclave of Davos, reports filtered through that President FW de Klerk had announced the unbanning of the ANC and other political parties and the release of Nelson Mandela. Through the concerted efforts of Schwab, Mandela and de Klerk (see below left) were invited to Davos where, on 2 February 1992, they both gave moving presentations on their hopes and dreams for a new South Africa. In 1999, five years after the historic elections that heralded the country’s transition to democracy, Mandela bade farewell to Klaus Schwab, saying “Were it not for the World Economic Forum, we would not be where we are today.”
The WEF-Africa 2015 programme was designed around three subthemes – enabling markets, inspiring creativity and marshalling resources. Among the topics were included: healthcare innovations; designing smarter cities; the future of space technology; and safeguarding Africa’s democratic dividend.
One of yesterday’s sessions considered the Ebola outbreak which has infected over 27,000 people in West Africa and killed more than 11,000, according the WHO’s latest estimates. Speaking about the lessons learnt, Unilever CEO Paul Polman acknowledged that companies and countries had found themselves ill prepared to deal with the crisis. “We didn’t have plans in our drawer” he said, and argued the next step should be for the WEF and governments to bring people together in advance of future disasters.
Yesterday was also an opportunity for South Africa’s Minister of Economic Development, Ebrahim Patel, to showcase the latest medical imaging product from our sister company, Lodox Systems, at WEF-Africa. As we previously highlighted Lodox received worldwide attention in 2013 when it featured in the popular TV drama, Grey’s Anatomy. There are now 62 machines installed globally, with 28 in South Africa, and, as the WEF byline says, Lodox is “committed to improving the state of the world.”