The World Economic Forum (WEF) took place in Davos, Switzerland, from 15-19 January 2024, bringing together global leaders from business, government, civil society, and academia to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world today. Among the topics that dominated the agenda were the challenges and opportunities for the post-pandemic recovery, the role of stakeholder capitalism, and the need for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) integration.
Private equity, as a major source of capital and value creation, was also in the spotlight, as industry experts and practitioners shared their insights and perspectives on how the sector can contribute to the recovery and address the ESG imperatives. Here are some of the key takeaways from the private equity sessions and discussions at Davos:
- Private equity can help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) overcome continuing headwinds that were initially caused by the pandemic. SMEs have been cited as struggling with increased costs, employee retention, and needing more investment. Through partnership with a private equity firm, SMEs can overcome the structural headwinds and level the playing field by utilising their expertise in improving operational efficiency, retaining and attracting talent, and accessing new markets and technologies (such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and cloud computing).
- Private equity should lead the charge on ESG strategy, given it is uniquely positioned to drive transformations in ESG best practices while aligning with the values of shareholders, management, and other stakeholders. The market is seeing an increase in ESG initiatives being implemented across portfolio companies, such as reducing carbon emissions, enhancing diversity and inclusion, and improving employee well-being.
- Private equity must adapt to the changing deal environment. As the pandemic disrupted the global economy and the financial markets, private equity dealmakers have faced new challenges and opportunities. Despite a strong 2022, spiking interest rates caused a sharp decline in deals, exits, and fund-raising during latter half of 2023, almost certainly signalling a turn in the cycle. A Bain report suggested that private equity firms need to adjust their strategies and tactics to the new reality, such as focusing on quality over quantity, diversifying their sources of financing, and solving the inflation conundrum.
The WEF provided a valuable platform for private equity stakeholders to exchange ideas and best practices, as well as to collaborate on addressing the common challenges and opportunities. As the world continues to transition to the post-pandemic era, private equity will continue to play a vital role in supporting the economic recovery, driving the ESG agenda, and creating long-term value for stakeholders.
Investments in the economy, technology, or the environment cannot succeed without the equivalent investment in people and equitable opportunities. Participants advanced projects on jobs and skills, digital inclusion and healthcare, among others.