Frank Jurgen Richter, the Founder Chairman of Zurich-based independent think tank, Horasis, talks to XED Global on the importance of creating a global network of people to bring together business and thought leaders to steer global business, development and raise issues like climate change and geopolitics.
What is the purpose of Horasis and how do you think it is fulfilling its purpose?
Horasis is a global visions community. Horasis in ancient Greek means ‘vision’ and long-term perspective and what we would really like to do is save the future jointly, with our delegates, and jointly with the world. We see that the world is moving into a kind of uncharted water. We see the rise of populism, uncertainty in financial markets, and even geopolitical tension all around the world. And some people say that globalization is turning into something that is de-globalization; a very dangerous trend.
We very much believe in dialogue and I think we all have to join hands to make this planet a better place to live on. And we believe that different cultures have to grow together. In the opening plenary, the commerce minister from Bangladesh said we have to support each other, countries supporting each other but also countries supporting companies, companies supporting countries, and societies. And the end of the day, we have to think of the layman, and see how they can have a fulfilled life. And here Horasis comes in. We are like a laboratory of ideas, shaping the future, but also jointly living in the present times to make the present a better place to live in.
How does Horasis function?
Every year, we hold four large-scale summits for CEOs, policymakers, governments, and academicians. Through the Horasis Asia Meeting, the second edition of which was held in Kolkata. Last year we have been at Thailand’s capital of Bangkok. This was the first time it was held in India. We also have a meeting in India, which is always held outside India. The next edition will be held in Spain. Then we have a China meeting and also our global meeting, which is our flagship event, where we have around 700 delegates attending. At Kolkata, we had a great collaboration here with the government of West Bengal and the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC).
Since the time you founded Horasis how much of your visions have been fulfilled and how much of it is a continuing process?
A lot of our visions have been fulfilled. On one hand, business people meet and talk about concrete projects like M&E, venture capital, foreign direct investment, so we see a lot of things happening on a very tangible level. On the other hand, governments change their view because they get a lot of comments from the business world and see how they can change the conditions for investors. Governments listen to our delegates, which is quite important. We also put a lot of topics like climate change, migration, society at large in our programme. Things are shaping up and changing because our delegates put forth those ideas. What we always do is after every such meeting we prepare a report, like a white paper, which is presented to governments and business people. We are here to change together with our delegates to make the world a better place to live on.
Horasis has emerged as one of most prestigious think tanks around the globe. Its meetings and summits draw some of the best minds from around the globe. Given that advantage, what does a conference like the Horasis Asia Meeting mean for India or even the region?
People have asked us why we went to Kolkata for the Asia Meeting, when we could have gone to the capital of any South East Asian country, say Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, even if we held it in India, we could have had the summit in Delhi or Mumbai. We believe Kolkata is the gateway to Asia, especially, South East Asia, with direct flights to Singapore, Malaysia, and Bangkok. Also, in terms of trade and investments, Kolkata is slowly but steadily emerging as a corridor to South East Asia.
We also feel that when it comes to investments and exchanges between foreign countries, we are discovering that the situation is changing and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is eager to have investors visit her state, in all sectors like steel, tourism, and agriculture. We also see that West Bengal is having a good time in terms of economic growth. So, it’s a nice momentum and a nice narrative and we would like to support Kolkata’s growth narrative.
Particularly in India, and in a lot of other places around the world, we often see that political forces are not always conducive towards business, towards, industry. How can Horasis help turn the political leadership around towards being more business-friendly?
Since Horasis is based out of Switzerland, we are politically neutral by definition and we are impartial. We believe in the future and we believe in jointly shaping the future. We actively engage and advise governments in terms of competitiveness, social network cities and countries have to build and that’s the reason we all welcomed by governments as sparring partners. If needed, we can always get support from our friends in the business community, our members join and together we advise governments for a better future. While our strength lies in our neutrality and impartiality, we raise issues and concerns. At this edition of the Asia meeting, we had a session on smart cities, talking about how cities can improve themselves, use a digital mechanism to turn up the level of sophistication in a city so that it can also be a culturally-sensitive and a livable city, where people would like to go. I think, in the future, there will be more completion between cities than in between countries, between regions, as well. Cities can attract the best of young people to study, stay, invest and be entrepreneurs, to be competition for the mind, not so much competition for money.
You talked about the vision of Horasis is to work towards a better future. How do you envision the future, in terms of business, for Asia, as well as globally?
We are optimists by nature; I think we have to be. We believe the future will be better than the past, and even the present. Of course, there are challenges and potential roadblocks such as populism, protectionism, and even nationalism, which are things we have to avoid. In order to change the future, we have to think of the future. Many governments live in the four-year election circle. The first year they come in, they think of changes, and in the second and the third year, there might be changes happening, if we are lucky, and then in the fourth year, they go for re-election. We like a much longer view and stability, leaders who have been in power for longer and are decisive, who can lead in the proper direction.
In the current global political scenario, from the US to India, and in many others parts of the world, even in Europe, there seems to have been a resurgence of right wing forces. The three roadblocks of populism, protectionism and nationalism you mentioned have not been this prominent in decades. How do you think that can be dealt with?
This resurgence has been a big surprise. When it became clear that Donald Trump was coming in, and in Europe, there has been a rise of populist tendencies… in France, Netherlands, and even in Germany, in the Nordic countries, in Austria, where a right-wing coalition partner coming in… the question remains why this is happening now and did not happen ten years ago. I think globalization is here to stay, globalization is good; we just need a free trade of goods, free trade of people, people should be able to go to whatever place they want, and free trade of ideas, which is the most important thing. Maybe in the past we neglected those who did not get the benefits of globalization, those who live in places like the Mid West of the US, southern Italy, those who live in the countryside and not in big cities, they were neglected by the so-called elite. Now the elite will have to take efforts to share privileges with the underprivileged. This again is a place where Horasis can come in and to put this up to the mind of the elite and say that beyond your daily work, it should be your ambition and your vision to share effects of globalization.
You spoke about climate change as a major roadblock to almost everything in the world and not just business. It seems that large nations such as the US, China, and even India, show a kind of apathy towards conservation at a time when major cities like Delhi and Beijing are extremely polluted. Do you think it is possible for Horasis to bring apathetic governments to the table and make them understand that climate change is a serious and real issue?
Climate change is not just real it cannot also be ignored at all. There are still people out there in governments, who don’t pay much attention to the crisis at hand. As part of our initiative, I will be travelling to places like Fiji and Solomon Islands, which might disappear. It’s very hazardous to say that climate is not happening since it is happening in real time and we have to put all our efforts together to prevent that. For a platform like ours, which is a platform of ideas, if we spell out the concerns of our participants, I think governments will listen. We have to make it happen and we want to make it happen. But it’s a process and will not happen overnight.