Putting practical action at the heart of the World Economic Forum

Written by Rachel Mountain on 25th Jan 2019

Like many people I’ve heard a lot over the years about the World Economic Forum, where more than 100 global leaders, 1,000 chief executives and other senior figures come together for an annual meeting.

Convening in the snowy Swiss mountain ski resort of Davos, the aim is to encourage people to improve global co-operation, tackle climate change and embrace the digital revolution. But what do these elite individuals really have in common with the daily struggles of everyday people?

The answer is not a lot, and that’s the criticism that’s often levied at the World Economic Forum. Can this high-level talking shop really, as Sir David Attenborough summed up, “get on with the practical tasks at hand” to save the planet given the rise of nationalism, growing protectionism and rolling back on climate change commitments?

The Citizens Agenda

Imagine my surprise, then, when this year I had the opportunity to attend the World Economic Forum to participate in several events focusing on the launch of a ‘Citizens’ Agenda and the promotion of grass roots partnerships to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and fight climate change.

The Energise Africa project brings affordable clean energy alternatives to families otherwise dependent on kerosene

A number of innovative partnerships were being showcased to show how they were supporting the achievement of the some of the 17 SDGs and Energise Africa was asked to talk about how we were using people-powered finance to accelerate the achievement of SDG 7: Universal and affordable energy for all. Other exciting people focused partnerships also included Global Citizen, SAP, Mission 2020 and Project Everyone.

Energise Africa (a partnership between impact investing organisations Ethex and Lendahand) makes it possible for everyday people to start investing from as little as £50 in bonds issued by solar businesses that are installing systems in rural, sub-Saharan African homes.

This provides pay-as-you-go flexibility to households across Africa, bringing affordable clean energy alternatives to families otherwise dependent on kerosene, whilst also earning investors potential returns of up to 6.75 per cent a year.

(Please be aware that with investments like this your capital is at risk and returns are not guaranteed.)

Impact networking

Energise Africa is also supported by a number of partners, many of which provide match funding including: UK aid, Virgin Unite (the non-profit foundation of the Virgin Group), P4G (a network bringing together business, government, and civil society organisations in public-private partnerships) and the Swiss-based Good Energies Foundation.

Placing the views of citizens at the heart of future World Economic Forum’s would be a very good thing indeed

In just 18 months the collective impact of the Energise Africa community has invested £6.5 million, mitigated more than 66,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually from the atmosphere and given 275,000 people access to affordable solar energy in countries including Mali, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, where energy access rates can be as low as 17 per cent. Just imagine what the collective impact could be if initiatives like this could be rapidly scaled!

Energise Africa and some of the other key partnerships showcased at the World Economic Forum highlights the power that citizen-led practical action can have in addressing some of the very real challenges of our time.

In my opinion placing the views of citizens at the heart of future meetings would be a very good thing indeed however, failing that it’s encouraging to see that people can take advantage of individuals and collective opportunities to use their money to drive real and systemic change.


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