When Klaus Schwab first created what has infamously and affectionately become known as ‘Davos’, he could never have imagined the power and influence the World Economic Forum could exert in driving change and progress, bringing together stakeholders from the opposite sides of the table, not only shareholders but clients, customers, companies, employee, communities, governments and political leaders. The Forum strategy is simple and effective – bring together the most relevant leaders from all sectors of global society and identify the best ways to address the world’s most significant challenges.

With World Economic Forum’s willingness to readily play host to divergent views and opposing factions in the hope of creating a dialogue that brings about positive and progressive change, its uniquely neutral approach has delivered unparalleled results; the meeting of South African President F W de Klerk with Nelson Mandela or the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres engaging with PLO Leader Yasser Arafat. While those geopolitical advancements for global dialogue on peace and reconciliation remain as powerful as ever, the WEF 2019 theme ‘Globalization 4.0: shaping a global architecture in the age of the fourth industrial revolution’ recognizes we are shifting from a world order based on common values to a world shaped by competing narratives, defined by advancing technologies from the physical, digital and biological world to combine to create innovations at speed and scale never previously experienced in history. Collectively, these transformations are changing how individuals, governments and companies relate to each other and the world at large.

Against that context, there were many other inter-related topics under examination at Davos, dialogues on the future of the economy to review principles for economic and social decision making; cybersecurity to ensure that digital innovation and technologies such as AI are safe, secure and can be trusted; human capital revisiting the notion of work and how this will increasingly transform; and institutional reform to create a new framework of rules and institutions integrating all aspects of global economic cooperation.

A key theme that is emerging from the interplay of these forces, is new super-charged levels of corporate, industry and brand co-operation on a scale unimaginable just a decade ago. Driven by global and government agendas and ever-increasing consumer transparency, emerging from the rise of Generation Z and new social media platforms, corporates recognize that the size and potential impact of the issues faced to be a successfully enduring business in today’s economy can no longer be overcome without unparalleled levels of cooperation. And that often means collaborating with other companies once considered old rivals are now viewed as essential bedfellows. Frameworks like UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals provide powerful independent blueprints for those brands and corporates who are willing and able to collaborate rather than compete to help achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

When the SDG’s were launched WPP was at the forefront of this unique collaboration of competitors inviting rival communications agencies to work together on individual goals hosting a multi-lateral debate with Kofi Annan former Secretary-General of the United Nations; Ellen MacArthur Foundation launched initiatives requiring competitive collaboration such as the New Plastic Economy and Make Fashion Circular; and at this year’s WEF the launch of initiatives like Loop, initiated by TerraCycle, a specialist in recycling the non-recyclable, is a great example of that competitive cooperation in practice. Loop is a first of its kind global packaging and shopping circular solution which aims to improve the environmental performance and convenience standards of well-known consumer products compared to current e-commerce solutions through packaging that is collected, cleaned, refilled and reused.  Loop also offers the option to collect used products from consumers’ doorsteps for further recycling or reuse – very akin to the traditional ‘milkman doorstep’ delivery model. While P&G was the first consumer products company to join Loop, others such as L’Oreal, Unilever, Nestlé, Mondelez, Danone, Coca-Cola and Carrefour were needed to create the scale, economic efficiency and ultimately create the right environment to effect consumer behavior change.

The breadth of unconventional corporate competitor collaborations is endless, nor is there any sign that the underlying forces driving forward these agendas are showing any signs of abating. Is this a trend that will continue to grow or simply a reaction to the current global economic uncertainties? Undoubtedly companies that have brands, products and services with superior performance, ease of availability and a value proposition that also addresses global societal challenges are undeniably better placed to succeed. And with over 1,000 companies at the highest levels of leadership actively engaging with the World Economic Forum, expect to see new levels of competitor collaboration innovation in 2020.

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