The central theme at the World Economic Forum in Davos was ‘a Fourth Industrial Revolution’ – a major topic of discussion was the complexity of technological advances and increased automation. The world is fast moving towards a future where the power of ‘big data’ is enabling organisations to deliver highly contextual experiences for customers with extremely diverse needs. The scale of growth in data driven services and mobile technology is converging with youthful populations in parts of the world such as Africa to create new opportunities for growth. As millennials transition into positions of power both as customers and corporate decision makers, the themes important to them are beginning to set the agenda for companies and governments. Responding to the demands of an on-demand economy while proving a real commitment to sustainable development have become essential ingredients needed now to deliver growth in the medium term.

However, the speed of globalisation and the complexities of cross-border trade and geo-political relationships are demanding closer working relationships between nations and corporations than ever before. This is driving demand in countries with developing legal and governance infrastructures for advisory services that offer specialist industry knowledge and experience, integrated working practices and more pragmatic tools.

This mixture of geo-political concern and a desire to shift focus to meet the demands of customers and citizens with different priorities is reflected in the most recent PwC Annual CEO survey. The findings reveal not only the extent of the support and expertise leaders are looking for to overcome increasing economic complexity, but crucially, the survey also highlights a new commitment to treat societal impact as a core priority. The results of the 19th PwC Annual CEO survey launched at Davos highlighted that nearly a quarter of global companies have shifted the focus of corporate activity towards the impact on society. The research with over 1,400 top leaders across 83 countries, reveals 40% are concerned about access to affordable capital impacting growth, 74% of CEOs are concerned about geo-political uncertainty, and almost 80% are worried about over regulation.

While global commodity prices and market volatility continue to cause anxiety, investment in collaborative corporate policy development on issues of global importance and problem solving partnerships are increasing. New research by non-profit group Influence Map reveals that Paris COP21 has triggered an unprecedented change in corporate behaviour in support of clean and green corporate activity. The findings suggest the unprecedented business presence at COP21 has produced a “significant change in corporate behaviour”. The report also called for trade associations to behave differently in order to support green and renewable projects.

Similarly, experts from the global investments industry have declared that a renewed interest in good corporate behaviour will be one of the most important factors in 2016. The Head of Sustainable Investments at Royal London Asset Management told Investment Week in January 2016 that along with growing demand for digital and physical infrastructure, a renewed interest in good corporate behaviour would be a defining theme of 2016 and beyond.

Societal impact: from peripheral to critical

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