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After decades of deregulation companies from each and every industry are now facing reversing trends. Regulatory pressure, a direct consequence of crises, scandals, globalization and resource depletion, is on the rise across the board.  And it is, inevitably, taking its toll on corporate operations. Regulatory oversight and scrutiny can delay a merger deal, lengthen time to market of a new and innovative product, increase the cost for company to remain compliant or reduce productivity. But regulation is here to stay and we had better learn how to deal with it. In the last 10 years (2004 – 2013) in the US alone the Code of Federal Regulations has increased by over 30,000 pages, three times more than in the decade earlier. Like “old” industries, new, innovative industries are facing the rising tide of regulation:  bitcoins, the internet, ‘Airbnb’, genome editing, 3D bioprinters… join the debate and brace for regulatory impact.  

Beyond governments and politicians, civil society has become one of the key stakeholders when it comes to regulation.  If we trust the recent YouGov internet opinion poll, more than two-thirds of the polled internet users believed that businesses would misbehave towards staff and consumers if there were no regulation.  In today’s interconnected world where any piece of news is available instantaneously, it doesn’t take much to perpetuate such views. With government institutions retreating from a number of regulatory activities and public functions, non-governmental organizations have progressively started to be more active in that space. NGOs have turned their attention toward the powerful private sector and have exercised the high level of public trust they enjoy to secure an important place in the process of crafting public policy.  

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UNCTAD World Investment Forum, UN, Geneva, 14th October 2014

It is estimated that 80% of CO2 emissions are now produced in cities. Currently, 50% of the global population lives in cities and this figure is forecast to grow to 70% by 2050. Cities play a crucial role in our world and with the rise of urbanization their importance is growing. The roundtable discussion on sustainable cities, which was part of the UNCTAD World Investment Forum, tried to answer the question of how to achieve sustainable investments, not only at international and national levels, but also at the city level. The discussion looked at how to improve environmental practices, living conditions, and economic growth in cities around the world. Lots of these activities require investment. Unsurprisingly, during the debate at the conference, when asked how many financial investors were in the room, only two hands rose. It really was more of a debate amongst mayors, businesses, environmentalists, development agencies and city leaders. However, as the discussion went on it was clear that whilst the investment is crucial, it is not only about the money. Local participation as well as private-public collaboration is essential in building sustainable cities. Furthermore, managing the use of existing resources such as land, water, and energy is crucial for the prosperity, positive development, and the future of cities.

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Why pay full price for something when you can rent it cheaper from a stranger online? That is what an increasingly number of people are thinking today. Some share for fun, others of economic reasons but the fact is that we are sharing as never before, challenging established notions of how individuals, businesses, and governments interact, as well as elements of the legal system.

Collaborative consumption, the sharing economy or the ownerless economy is exploding and creating new industries. Many people are increasingly questioning the value of having possessions such as cars, bikes, books, music, and even dogs. Today, technologies are available to let them share, rent, or barter for these items easily, almost anywhere: growing urbanization means that there is a critical mass of people to participate, so ownership is simply not necessary. Nor is it desirable for many as concerns over the environment and global issues prompt a rethink of consumption itself. The question is not just do we need to own it? It is do we need it at all?

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3.2% of the world’s population is migrants; putting them all together in one country would create the world’s fifth most populous country with 232 million people. Europe and Asia combined host nearly two-thirds of all international migrants worldwide. Europe is the most popular region with 72 million migrants in 2013, compared to 71 million in Asia. Since 1990, Northern America has recorded the biggest gain in the absolute number of migrants, adding 25 million and has experienced the fastest growth in migrant stock by an average of 2.8% year. (Source: UN) According to Gallup these migrants are not alone. Around 13% of the world’s adults – or about 630 million people – say they would like to leave their country and move somewhere else permanently, with the U.S. being the most desirable destination.

 Diasporas have always been a strong economic force with global remittances from migrants tripling over the past decade and now outstripping official aid. As travel becomes cheaper and easier, these networks are getting larger and more connected, helping to spread knowledge, wealth, and product demand, as well as opening doors by connecting people and businesses globally. Yet many countries and companies do not recognize the potential of the diaspora network and how it can contribute to economic progress and business growth. Clearly, disaporas are important in terms of spending power. But this is just once facet of the potential benefits for organizations and governments.

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Manufacturing of goods is one of the biggest sectors of the global economy and with the size of the global middle class expected to increase to 4.9 billion by 2030 demand for goods is unlikely to slow down. Historically, manufacturing has been driven by companies with the means to operate at large scale. However, in the 21st century the internet and technology advancements are shifting the advantage in production away from scale – and therefore away from the owners of large scale facilities – towards flexibility and agility. DIY (do-it-yourself) has always existed but is today rapidly transforming from the traditional “how to mend a sock or change a tire” towards the ability to make or design something for yourself or others. As more and more people get involved, it is not only start-ups but also larger companies that are taking advantages of this growing “maker” culture.

In 2005, Dale Dougherty of O’Reilly Media launched the Make Magazine, a quarterly journal about DIY projects. The year after he launched a nationwide series of Maker Faire that became the first showcases for an emerging movement, the “maker movement,” developing around a growing DIY culture. This movement has led to an increasing number of regular events and participants around the world, e.g. in 2012, a crowd of 120,000 people visited such an event in San Mateo, California.

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At long last The Global Trends Fieldbook: From Data to Insights to Action is in production! A companion to The Global Trends Report 2013 which outlines the major trends reshaping the world, The Global Trends Fieldbook focuses on the critical steps of moving from data to insights to taking actions today to prepare organizations for the future. Drawing on a wealth of case studies, examples and food for thought, as well as additional analyses of some potential "game-changing" trends, it provides practical suggestions for senior leaders of businesses, governments, NGOs and societies and communities who are responsible for preparing their organizations for the future. It also outlines 8 key principles for thinking differently in going about this important task. 

We hope to have the Fieldbook available electronically and in hard copy in the next few weeks, so do look out for it. Ahead of the launch, here's our first preview of some food for thought on how technologies -- and those that promote them -- could impact our future. 

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It happened again. A domestic helper in our neighborhood here in Singapore, an Indonesian woman, asked the helper next door for food and clothes. Your occasional correspondent is trying to imagine her desperation. This woman lives and works in a house that’s worth well over a million US dollars, but she is neither fed nor clothed. I will not dwell on the personal characteristics of people who treat other human beings this way, but I will dwell on the phenomenon of migrant labor, and the winners and losers of this global trend. Because she is a case in point – migrant labor is on the up, and an increasing proportion of them are women.

Anyone who takes up some kind of paid employment outside their home country is considered a migrant worker, including well-off ‘expats.’ However, the topic here is migrant workers from developing countries, those who cross a national border in search of a better life, for themselves and for their families back home.

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In recent years the possibilities of the Arctic have hit the news now and again. Mostly it goes unnoticed. For many people the Arctic is still just a big chunk of very cold, inaccessible and uninhabitable land. The Arctic region covers more than 30 million square kilometers or 18 million square miles. However, since 1979 the extent of Arctic sea ice has decreased rapidly and according to a UN climate report Arctic summer ice is set to be gone in less than 40 years, much faster than anticipated. While this present huge opportunities for developing the Arctic region, scientists also worry that the melting of the Arctic permafrost could be a “economic time bomb” as it releases unusually large amounts of methane (potent greenhouse gasses) that could potentially cause significant climate changes.

The Arctic actually isn’t just a piece of uninhabitable land. It is to home to about 4 million people from 40 ethnic groups and an economy of US$230 billion. While it is a region ripe with opportunities, it is also one of the last true wildernesses on earth and an extremely challenging environment. According to the United States Geological Survey about 13% of undiscovered oil and 30% of undiscovered gas reserves are in the Arctic. In a world facing rising oil prices, countries as well as international oil corporations have shown much interest in recovering these vast reserves. However, it is widely believed that the potential oil and gas fields are out at sea, far from land as well as infrastructure and in extreme climatic conditions, making production far too expensive. Exploring other and cheaper options such as shale gas in North America and conventional gas production in in the Middle East could be better and more viable options! The Arctic as the new energy source should not go completely unquestioned.

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Welcome to our guest blogger Jorge Yui. Jorge is a digital media expert, linguist, entrepreneur, and global banking systems specialist. He has over 25 years of strategy, business consulting, and senior program management experience across Europe, Asia and Latin America at Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Julius Baer, Temenos, and IBM. He studied Computer Linguistics at Zurich University. See Jorge’s blog at jorgeyui.wordpress.com or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Here's Jorge's view on the WhatsApp deal and what it means for banking.

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Today there is a growing expectation and need for businesses of all shapes and sizes to step up to a bigger role in society. An increasing number of businesses are embracing challenge, strengthening their businesses by creatively addressing the world’s pressing issues. It’s not always easy, but it does make sense in a world that is becoming more complex and interdependent: Large corporations, in particular, are at risk of losing their legitimacy if they choose not to take a more active role in addressing their responsibilities and role in society. It’s not about purpose versus profit, because they are not mutually exclusive but about recognizing that business is an integral part of society and therefore has both the need and the responsibility to build strong, sustainable relationships with societies based on mutual benefit. Fortunately many companies such as Unilever, Tata, Royal DSM, Marks & Spencer and Toronto-Dominion Bank are leading the way demonstrating that these approaches make good business sense as well as societal sense.

However, responsible conduct in the business world is not only for the large, well-established corporations. Global connectedness through technology, a lack of job opportunities and an urge to make a difference in the world has produced a whole new generation of young social entrepreneurs. It is not that the idea of social entrepreneurship is particularly new. The term was developed as early as the 1960s but it is only recently that the concept has really taken off. Why now? Many young people today are drawn towards the idea of seeking meaning in what they do while also looking for a way to make a living.

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It is a well-guarded compound with a high, whitewashed wall facing the street. Access is restricted to a solid, metal-framed sliding gate, and only a small peephole allows the guards a view of the entrance on University Avenue Road. Your occasional correspondent is standing outside Aung San Suu Kyi’s house on the shores of Inya lake in northern Rangoon, not really sure what to do there. There is nothing to see and the car is waiting for me on a narrow curb in the late afternoon rush hour traffic. I am thinking it’s probably time for dinner.

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The alluring illusion of perfection almost got me. The almond croissants had just the right amount of crispy crust on top and the lemongrass infused panna cotta was smooth as silk. The fancy hotel, a Potemkin village to which I had escaped to indulge in a sumptuous breakfast buffet alongside the blue-haired cruise-ship crowds, is by necessity a self-sufficient microcosm. Behind the scenes, a lot of people were hard at work keeping up appearances.

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One egg after the other into the frying pan, but then straight into the bin. The white is watery and the yolk flat; they are not fit for human consumption, despite the fact that none of them have expired and I have kept them in the fridge since I bought them. Hungry children and husband are finally left without the over-easies – again.

Disappointed and still hungry, your occasional correspondent turned to the recently launched Economist Intelligence Unit’s Food Security index (EIU).  Singapore scores relatively high, but is lagging behind in two areas: protein quality and diet diversification. The former was not a major surprise given the egg situation, but the latter was quite shocking to an avid enjoyer of the culinary melting pot that is Singapore. Like most people here, I don’t have to look very far to find most food stuffs normally available in a major city anywhere in the world – in addition to an array of Asian delights both in the grocery stores, restaurants and hawker centers. My best guess is that there is a disconnect between what is available in the shops and what people actually eat. A look into the trolleys of my fellow shoppers confirms this.

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The recent Paris Wharton Global Alumni Forum was packed out with classmates, faculty and friends of the school determined to talk, listen, network and eat their way through two days of stimulating and challenging discussion. It certainly provided food for thought, not just on the overall theme of “Talent,” but on the role of talented people in addressing critical global challenges.

There was no shortage of debate and ideas around the pressing challenge for organizations around the world to attract, retain, and get the best out of their people to drive businesses, economies and societies forward. Offering entertaining, but profound leadership lessons, world-renowned chef Alain Ducasse, head of a burgeoning hospitality business beyond his flagship three Michelin-starred restaurants, spoke about the need to build the business around passion to provide moments of delight for guests; imagination, creativity, even audacity to challenge what is possible and desirable; and, not least, the curiosity and willingness to look ahead and from diverse perspectives to create unique experiences. The portrait was of a passionate but professional organization, not afraid to rethink the “rules” to create the future they want.

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Malaysia is a fascinating country, with its variety of natural scenery, architecture and people. The contrast of urban sprawl along meandering highways cuts through the stunning greenery as massive constructions of metal and steel tower over miniscule colonial shop-houses. However, on our way around the country, a more worrying set of contrasts emerged through our conversations with taxi-drivers – the one between “us” and “them.” They all seemed to be complaining about the government and the benefits awarded to the “lazy Malays” while they are doing all the work.  It eventually occurred to me that the taxi-drivers were all ethnic Chinese and Indian. Their stories of state-sponsored ethnic inequality sounded biased and unbelievable, and hence a topic for your occasional correspondent to explore. What it is lurking behind the scenes of the tourism authority’s ‘Malaysia Truly Asia’?

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2013: year 5 of the financial crisis which is – no surprise – still top of the agenda in Brussels. “We need to boost economy,” “break the vicious cycle,” “help the most deprived.” Not one day passes without somebody proposing or initiating measures to get out of the trough. But the only measure which has effectively taken is austerity. Its consequences are headlines in the daily news: 

  • Greece has become the first developed nation to be cut to emerging-market status by MSCI    as of mid-June 2013.
  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates the potential for social unrest in European Union countries as higher than anywhere else in the world.
  • Austerity leads to an increase in suicide rates and serious cuts in health care.

As people don’t seem to be getting a lot of support from their governments which are responsible for cuts in social welfare and fail to create jobs in the current situation, the only way out seems to lie in self-help. Even the European Commission is jumping on the bandwagon and promoting social innovation as THE new business model to address unmet social needs. Unfortunately, what European leaders want to make sound like support is more a confession of failure.

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We are sitting on a local bus on the lovely tropical island of Penang in Malaysia, longing for the charms of its main city, Georgetown. The old part of town hasn’t changed much since we were here 18 years ago. Then we were backpackers in a Chinatown hostel, suffering salmonella courtesy of an insufficiently fried egg from a street vendor; now with three kids, we are still backpackers, but staying in slightly more comfortable accommodation by the beach. Hence the bus ride into town.  A Western, white-haired couple boards the bus at the Holiday Inn. Looking like cruiseship-escapees, they are a good example of today’s most prolific travelers: retirees nowadays are the cash-laden, internet-savvy baby-boomers, with a lot of time on their hands. They may also be senior travelers in more than one sense – not only are they of an advanced age, but they may well be former travelers on the hippie-trail in the 60’s and 70’s.  So there are backpackers with more grey hair than your occasional correspondent.

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Tagged in: Asia Tourism
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Do you ever think about the size and impact of the corporation you, your friends, family members or neighbors work for? If you do, the size might amaze you. Thinking this way offers a whole new perspective on global markets as the revenues of some of the world’s largest corporations are far bigger than the GDPs of many countries.

We are pleased to have just released our annual research on the world’s largest economic entities, Corporate Clout 2013, which reveals that, in 2012, 40 of the world’s 100 largest economic entities (countries and corporations combined) are public corporations. This is the same percentage as in 2011 but down 2% since 2010 (42%).  If you look at the top 150 economic entities in 2012, the proportion of corporations is 58%, slightly down from 2011 (58.7%) but at the same level as in 2010 (58%).

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What is one of the essentials for a stable relationship? Trust! And what’s the killer for trust? Deceit! What’s true for human interactions is also true for relationships in the business world. The latest outrageous example of how so-called professionals capitalized on the confidence of their clients was the horse meat scandal, mainly affecting the European continent. The whole food sector is going through a crisis of confidence. Not for the first time though. We had BSE, moldy meat being labeled as fresh, too much antibiotics in turkey and so on. It’s not just Europe. China was just hit by its own meat scandal: Foxes and rats were sold as lamb, some meat was even poisoned. Such actions destroy consumers’ confidence instantly and always leave a sour taste.

So, criminal actions put the meat industry into a crisis, but consumers will gain trust again just by time passing and media coverage going down. Other industries, on the other hand, have a more general image problem as suggested by a recent Eurobarometer survey conducted in the EU, Croatia, Israel, Turkey, Brazil, the U.S., China and India. Finance and banking, mining, oil and gas companies are the least likely to be seen as making efforts to behave in a responsible way towards society. Only 34% of the respondents in Europe perceive them to be making efforts to do so. In comparison, 70% and 67% respectively of respondents thought that agricultural companies and retail companies/ supermarkets were making efforts to be responsible towards society.

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After more than 2 years of research and travelling around the world to talk to senior leaders about the challenges facing their businesses, and themselves, 5-10 years in the future we will shortly publish the book summarizing our findings and recommendations – what does this mean for you and your organization in preparing for the future, and what do you need to start doing today.

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