B20 Summit lives up to core theme of transforming for inclusive growth   

B20 Summit lives up to core theme of transforming for inclusive growth   

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The B20 gives the global business community a platform to articulate policy recommendations to the G20. Day two of its summit focused on the environment, energy and climate change, the international trade system, humanizing digital technology and levelling the playing field for women.

India’s G20 Sherpa and former Indian railways minister, Suresh Prabhu, criticized the sole focus on shareholders in the corporate world. He stressed the need to move toward stakeholder capitalism in order to take the common public good into consideration, with a focus on public health or climate change being some examples. His mantra was: “If you want to be happy, first make others happy.”  

A session about reinvigorating the battle to save the planet featured some of the biggest names from the energy world. 

Former administrator of the US Energy Information Administration and president of the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center, Adam Sieminski, warned that hydrocarbons would play an important role in providing energy for all until 2050. 

He admitted that climate change was a major issue for the 21st century and put forward the circular carbon economy as one solution. The concept was first introduced by Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman at last year’s Future Investment Initiative and advocates the 4 Rs - reducing carbon emissions, reusing, recycling and removing carbon. 

The G20 represents the world’s strongest economies and, as such, has a role to play in rolling out concepts like the circular carbon economy on a global scale. Sieminski stressed that business leaders needed to focus on the health of their industries, which included being open to technological innovations such as those proposed under the circular carbon economy.

Saudi ARAMCO CEO Amin Nasser said the oil giant was reducing its carbon footprint and was going further still by working with the automotive and construction sectors among others. He saw the circular carbon economy as the way forward to ensure CO2 reduction.

Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne highlighted the need to focus on reducing the carbon footprint as well as on compliance and integrity. Pouyanne saw climate change as the big challenge of this century and urged energy companies to work toward achieving the goal of a zero emission economy.

The international trading system, which already faced major challenges before the pandemic because of trade wars and the need to reform the World Trade Organization, was another focus. The COVID-19 pandemic magnified these challenges as it hampered supply chains and trade.

Speakers observed that micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) constituted more than 90 percent of global business communities, and that they were particularly vulnerable to global economic shocks and supply chain disruptions. 

HSBC Group chairman Mark Tucker focused on how public-private partnerships, like supply chain trade finance schemes, could support the plight of MSMEs. He also advocated better regulatory trade regimes.

Mastercard president and CEO Ajay Banga and CEO of Sintesa Group Shinta Kamdani highlighted how technology could help facilitate trade flows and financial inclusion through online tools.

The panel agreed that collaboration and trust were the only ways to ensure free trade across borders, which was vital for the global economy to recover from the pandemic.

The B20 has been going for 10 years and may never have been more important than it is in 2020 because business will have to play a major part in bringing the global economy back from the depths of the COVID-19 recession. 

Cornelia Meyer

The future of technology and how to ensure safety and inclusiveness was also high on the day’s agenda, as the pandemic had accelerated digitalization at an unprecedented pace.

Cedrik Neike, a member of the Siemens managing board, highlighted the uses of AI and other technologies to drive productivity, provided the workforce was properly trained and the technologies fostered trust. 

The CEO of DHgate, Diane Wang, looked at e-commerce and talked about its potential to empower the workforce and consumers.

The main issue in the technology field was upskilling the workforce because 85 percent of jobs in the sector will not exist for several years to come. 

COVID-19 should be a wake-up call for governments and businesses to move to advanced technologies. Global cooperation will be pivotal to ensure cybersecurity and common ethical standards, both of which are of utmost importance to digitalization going forward.

The last theme centered on how to create a level playing field for women. Assistant director-general for social and human sciences at UNESCO, Gabriela Ramos, said that women were among the hardest hit by the pandemic. 

Between 70 and 90 percent of the care economy was staffed by women and they were over-represented in other hard-hit sectors - such as hospitality and retail - with low compensation. They were also grossly under-represented in senior management and the digital economy.

Former HP CEO, Carly Fiorina, said the position of women would never be advanced if it were only considered as something nice to have rather than being considered as a must-have. Governments, companies and other entities performed better if they had significant female representation in senior positions. Standard Chartered CEO and co-chair of the Women in Business Action Council Bill Winters agreed with Fiorina, while Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar, stressed the need to focus on the holistic journey of women including education, childcare, financial literacy and the workplace. She regretted not having had more female cohorts and role models in her career.

The themes of technology, climate change, achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and inclusiveness weaved in throughout the day, showing they were priorities for multilateral institutions, governments and corporations alike. 

The 22 policy recommendations of the B20 touched on the same themes and were grouped into three sections: Empowering people, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers.  

The B20 has been going for 10 years and may never have been more important than it is in 2020 because business will have to play a major part in bringing the global economy back from the depths of the COVID-19 recession. 

The motto of the Saudi Arabia B20 was transforming for inclusive growth, which could not have been more topical in light of how the pandemic exacerbated the global economy's already significant inequalities. 

It was particularly gratifying to see that women’s issues were included across all policy recommendations and that the summit itself gave the floor to many brilliant women leaders on various panels.

The day concluded with Saudi Arabia’s B20 Sherpa, Dr. Abdulwahab Al-Sadoun, reiterating that the Kingdom’s B20 was built on the pillars of inclusivity, action-orientedness and collaboration. He was impressed with how positive, engaged, collaborative and inclusive all the speakers were. 

In that sense the B20 summit truly reflected the theme of transforming for inclusive growth, and the G20 leaders now have 22 policy recommendations from the B20 community.

  • Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of the business consultancy Meyer Resources. Twitter: @MeyerResources
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