Sponsored by Sage

By Rieva Lesonsky

In mid January, the World Economic Forum (WEF) convened the globe’s economic leaders at Davos for its Annual Meeting. A blog recapping the event on the WEF website asked, “Are we on the cusp of a Fourth Industrial Revolution?” According to the blog not only do most of the Davos participants think we are, but, “It’s unlike anything we’ve ever experienced.” This sentiment was underscored at the meeting by Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, who noted, “As a society, we are entering uncharted territory.”

But, says the WEF blog, “As with earlier revolutions, this one will not be painless. A Forum report released at the start of the meeting predicted that by 2020, 5 million jobs will be lost as a result of technological changes…without doubt, there would be victims of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

Heady stuff no doubt. Amazing innovations and discoveries lie ahead, but there will be a cost to uncovering and creating them. These are topics definitely worthy of discussion at a forum attended by the leading minds on the planet.

And yet, something’s missing. You. Me. And millions just like us. As Stephen Kelly, CEO of The Sage Group, wrote just before the meeting kicked off, “Once again, small and medium businesses are woefully under-represented at Davos. This means that the issues you face simply won’t get aired in the way they should. But even more than that, Davos’ small business ‘blind spot’ proves a very real risk for the global economy.”

Kelly’s right. How can you convene an economic conference purported to explore the future and solve the world’s challenges if some of the world’s primary problem-solvers (SMBs) aren’t represented?

On the first day of the meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, “We don’t want technology simply because it’s dazzling. We want it, create it and support it because it improves people’s lives.”

The WEF blog followed that by asking, “But does it?”

The answer—of course it does. Technological advances have made the world a better place—for those it directly—and indirectly touches. Technology sparked the entrepreneurial revolution of the 1990s and helped transform people with good ideas into the innovators and creators making our world a better place.

As Kelly notes, “In the Davos2016 launch video, the WEF asks its central question: ‘How do we avoid a world of joblessness, low productivity and inequality?’” Most of us know the answer to that question lies in the hands of small businesses. In those go-go 90s, when entrepreneurs became the most admired people in America, about 23 million jobs were created—mostly by SMBs. Kelly quotes President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech where the President pointed out that of the 14 million jobs created during his presidency, two-thirds were created by small and medium businesses. And it’s not just in America that entrepreneurs are having an impact. Kelly says SMBs today are “creating a colossal two-thirds of the jobs in developed economies.” Santiago Solanas, the CMO at Sage, points out that SMBs “represent 99 percent of all companies in Europe.”

This is not to say the world is not a perilous place. We all know it is. The Davos attendees pointed out the perils: the possible destruction of the middle class, the successful use of social media by terrorists, the refugee crisis and robots of mass destruction (seriously), just to mention a few.

Professor Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, says, “There has never been a time of greater promise or greater peril.”

Indeed, at times like this we need great leaders from all walks of life to guide us. The WEF blog says the Davos participants agreed that, “Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution needs to be bold, brave and based on real action.” That’s absolutely true—but who fills that bill better than the world’s entrepreneurs?

As President Obama said, “In this new economy, workers and startups and small businesses need more of a voice, not less.”

Yes, we do. And that’s why the World Economic Forum should waive the cost of attending and invite some small business owners to Davos2017. The world’s not going to find the solutions it needs until we’re invited to the table.

Photo: weforum.org