Reflections from the World Government Summit

Despite a cloud of pessimism regarding the role of the public sector and trust in governments at an all-time low, the World Government Summit took place in Dubai. The event, which featured speakers such as Antonio Guterres, Christine Lagarde and Elon Musk, highlighted a counter-cultural wave of positivity and optimism. Overall, participants agreed that governments still have a role to play in this fast paced and ever-changing world, particularly when it comes to multilateralism, innovation, and sustainable development.

Many of the conversations that took place during the Summit revealed the days of multilateralism are not over. Although traditional players such as the United Kingdom and United States appear to be taking a step back, many frontier markets see this as an opportunity to play a more prominent role. The United Arab Emirates, host of the Summit, showcased its partnerships with the OECD and its commitment to overseas development assistance (ODA.) Xi Jinping’s speech at Davos was frequently mentioned as an example of a commitment to globalisation and global citizenship. And the United Nations’ new Secretary General commented on the need for multilateral institutions to adapt but the key role they continue to play.

Innovation was a recurring theme and showcased the desire for many traditional institutions, particularly governments, to adapt in a fast-paced world. Klaus Schwab kicked off the Summit with an overview of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the need for the public sector to keep pace with exponential technologies. Elon Musk described a future in which automated vehicles, artificial intelligence and human-machine interfaces will be the norm. And conversations around fintech, and blockchain in particular, revealed complexities around governments’ need to both foster innovation and safeguard citizens.

The conversations around sustainable development were groundbreaking. The public sector is doubling down on its commitment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Jeffrey Sachs stressed the importance of addressing climate change, which disproportionately impacts the world’s poor. Jim Yong Kim focused on education as a driver of growth and mentioned the transformative impact it had on South Korea. And institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund unveiled their plans to partner with the private sector to close the funding gap needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

In a world where much of the discussion around governments focuses on Brexit, Trump and the French elections, it was heartening to see a proactive and productive approach. As the role of the public sector continues to evolve, many see global cooperation evolving with it. This evolution is an opportunity for many and the overall prospect is a positive one.

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