Last week, I have the privilege to participate in the B20 meetings in Los Cabos, a prelude to the G20 economic summit. For those of you who do not know, the B20 is a meeting of international CEOs who gather to discuss economic issues and provide suggestions to the G20 leaders. I was there representing Microsoft and substituting for Steve Ballmer.
The B20 has several working groups, including food security, green growth, trade and investment, and ICT and innovation. I co-chaired the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Innovation group, along with Carlos Slim Domit. (Carlos is the son of Carlos Slim Helú, the world's richest man. Yes, I know names are a bit confusing, but it follows naming tradition.) I have also served with Carlos Slim Helú on the United Nations Broadband Commission. I will return to this topic in a bit.
The B20 meeting opened with a plenary presentation by the Mexican President, Felipe Calderón, who was also chair of this year's G20 meeting. The President gave a rousing speech advocating free trade and the economic benefits. This was followed by a rather sobering panel conversation with Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, Bob Zoellick, head of the World Bank, and Angel Gurria, secretary general of the OECD.
Not surprisingly, the Eurozone crisis and the then ongoing Greek elections dominated conversation. The frustration and near despair was palpable, with Gurria noting that fiscal union without effective governance was the root of the problem. I found myself thinking that this as an old story. After all, the U.S. fought a civil war to resolve, among other issues, the relative power of states and the Federal government. In any case, there were repeated pleas for strong and consistent action the resolve the financial crisis permanently, but limited faith that would happen.
The spirit of the conversation was captured succinctly in an exchange with a B20 delegate from Africa, who rose to ask why the conversation was dominated by European concerns. It was a quite reasonable and appropriate question at a global economic panel. Each of the panelists smiled wryly and said, in their own words, "In this context, no mention is good news."
My takeaway is that the global economic situation is not going to get better any time soon. The Chinese economy is clearly slowing, the Eurozone crisis seems endless, and the U.S. situation is tenuous at best.
As I mentioned at the outset, I co-chaired the B20 ICT and Innovation task force. The core recommendations focused on broadband access and digital inclusion, with four main pillars, and they were presented in a panel discussion, with comments from the Chilean President, Sebastián Piñera.
Enabling Broadband for All.This recommendation is an extension of the work I have been doing on spectrum and telecommunications policy, including white spaces. The economic and political circumstances in each country and region are different, with different regulatory regimes and wired and wireless incumbents. However, the economic data are clear and unmistakable. When broadband – at affordable rates – is available to a substantial fraction of the population, net economic growth is higher. The details of the recommendation are in the report, but the focus is on removing regional and national regulatory restrictions, stimulating competition, supporting new business models, and making devices available to stimulate deployment and access.
Developing Content and Applications for the Public Good.Those of us in developed countries, and particularly English-speaking ones, tend to forget that access to local content and software, in one's native tongue, is more limited in other parts of the world. Local content and services, including government data and transparency, can increase citizen participation in government, increase political transparency and stimulate economic growth.
Ensuring Cybersecurity for All.These recommendations centered on uptake of best practices globally and public-private partnerships to ensure security access to services.
Promoting Innovation in ICT.These were the standard, oft-repeated pleas for appropriate support for innovation and risk tasking.
Over the past six months, have I had several opportunities to have small group conversations with President Calderón. I have been impressed by his sincerity and commitment to collaboration and open government. It will be interesting to see what happens to Mexican policies after the Mexican President elections in a few months.
As one would expect, there was intense security around the leaders. From this event, my earlier participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APAC) meeting and visits to the White House, I have come to realize that security details for senior government officials all look very similar. There are dark suits, the subtle but clear bulges of weapons, and the constantly searching gazes.
Finally, the gala events provided an opportunity mingle and discuss politics, economics and policy with a diverse and interesting group. There are not many places where one can first discuss social inclusion with a Peruvian cabinet minister, then join a dinner conversation with the South African ambassador and two CEOs. In addition, of course, there are the obligatory photographs of me in a guayabera.