Latvian Davos – The World Latvian Economic and Innovation Forum

Opinion
09.11.2023.

Autors: Pauls Miklaševičs, BluOr Bank Chief Investment Officer

 

Latvian Davos – The World Latvian Economic and Innovation Forum

Once a year the global political, civil society and corporate elite gather in Davos, Switzerland at the World Economic Forum (WEF) to “address the state of the world and discuss priorities for the year ahead.”
The World Economic Forum is quite the club. It has 1200 members and describes its mission as “improving the state of the world by engaging business, political, academic, and other leaders of society to shape global, regional, and industry agendas”.
The cost of attending the WEF starts from around 120 000 euro per person for those that want the highest level of access. Of course this does not include 60 euro Caesar salads or accommodations that cost thousands per night.
So what is the big deal? Why would anyone pay that much money to attend key note speeches and panel discussions? Networking and access.
It turns out that networking and access is big business. Last year the WEF’s revenues were 390 million euros. This might seem like a large amount of money, but it is small change in the context of the connections that it helps enable.
In our globalized world international connections are powerful and important. This is why ten years ago Jānis Kukainis then president of the World Federation of Free Latvians (WFFL) decided that Latvia and its diaspora needed its own forum to meet and forge impactful connections.
Latvia was still recovering from the economic and social ravages of the Great Financial Crisis and the leadership of the WFFL decided that it had to do everything in its power to attract investment to Latvia. The forum’s aim was to highlight success stories from both Latvia and the Latvian diaspora and to bring together high achievers with a passionate interest in the continued development and sustainable growth of the Latvian economy.
They named the forum the “World Latvian Economic and Innovation Forum” and they decided to organize the event during the Latvian Song and Dance festival since many prominent members of the diaspora would be in Riga.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the first WLEIF and this year’s WLEIF took place on July 5th – also during the Song and Dance festival.
According to its website, “WLEIF aims to promote Latvia’s economic growth by strengthening cooperation between professionals working in different business sectors in Latvia and worldwide, to attract innovation, financial and knowledge capital to Latvia, and to strengthen the belonging of Latvians living outside Latvia to Latvia.” (more information at www.wleif.lv)
The World Latvian Economic and Innovation Forum is organized by the World Association of Free Latvians and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia, in cooperation with ERDA and the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia, The Red Jackets and others.
This year’s event features a star-studded constellation of speakers and presenters that represent Latvia’s business and political elite. However, unlike the WEF, WLEIF is free to attend – you just have to register.
This year WLEIF addressed the forces that would define our growth and prosperity over the foreseeable future.
Featured speakers included Latvia’s current president Edgars Rinkēvičs, expresident Egils Levits, prime minister Krišjānis Kariņš, the president of the WFFL Pēteris Blumbergs and the exmayor of Riga Mārtiņš Staķis as well as leaders of industry such as the chairman of Luminor Bank Nils Melngailis, John Tully chairman of Mikrotik and the American Chamber of Commerce in Latvia and Martin Gauss CEO of airBaltic.
In addition to key note speakers, panel discussions covered a broad array of topics – all of which would play an important role in Latvia’s future economic success. One part of the forum focuses on ‘services’ – how international investors see Latvia and how we intend to attract new capital and tourist flows, as well as how we are building our 21st century transportation and communication networks.
Another theme at the forum – people; – how municipalities attract businesses and how we can encourage remigration, as would as strategies to ensure talent retention and upskilling.
The third theme – innovation. I am particularly excited about the discussion titled “Bio Frontier: The Future of Latvia’s Healthcare and Biotech Sectors”. As you may or not be aware the first generation of post-world war two Latvian refugees abroad put a very strong emphasis on education. The result was a generation that included an inordinate amount of very successful doctors, perhaps most notably Kristaps Zariņš – Professor Emeritus of Stanford University – who will be participating in this discussion.
There are absolutely incredible technological developments that are currently taking place in the biomedical field, and I look forward to hearing what sort of role this industry could play in Latvia’s future: both in terms of our healthcare system as well as creating innovations that could be in high demand internationally.
There was also a panel on Latvia’s future energy policy which I have had the privilege of moderating. The world is on the brink of largest energy transition in history and Latvia has the opportunity to show initiative, pragmatism and leadership is shaping its transition to carbon neutrality.
When WLEIF was founded, part of the ambition was that we would start to celebrate our successes in business the way that we celebrate our culture, and work in concert to create economic opportunity.
I moved to Latvia in 2008 – just as the great financial crisis was starting to wreak havoc on the Latvian economy. The great financial crisis shook our nation’s confidence and led to a mass exodus of inhabitants. It took years for people to stop asking me why I actually chose to live in Latvia if I could live in Canada. Many talented people moved abroad and we still feel the pain from a human capital perspective to this day.
WLEIF cannot solve all of our challenges through one day of discussions, but it can continue to build bridges and bring Latvians and friends of Latvia around the world closer together through the power of private initiative and personal connection. It aims at sparking ideas, it manifests goodwill and intent, it inspires.
Unlike the WEF at Davos, you do not have to pay hundreds of thousands to attend, but you have the chance to introduce yourself and have a chat with someone whose insight and experience could motivate and guide you and might just change the world as you know it. Or you could meet the next gifted Latvian entrepreneur who has fire and brilliance, but is looking for capital. The possibilities are legion.
WLEIF draws on the success of Latvia and Latvians, and encourages cooperation by several stakeholders in our nation’s future. Whereas the WEF is mostly a theatre of posturing and global platitudes, WLEIF’s participants are looking to work together to build on immediate opportunities that will benefit Latvia. It will also be a showcase of one of foremost advantages of Latvia’s business environment: the proximity of personal connection. Whatever you are interested in doing, there is an extremely high probability that another WLEIF participant knows someone that they could introduce you to help actualize your ambitions. The WEF might have inspired WLEIF, but WLEIF is by far the better forum for immediate and lasting impact.
The closing concert of the XXVII Song and XVII Dance festival took place in Mežaparks on July 9th. The title of the concert – “Upwards Together”. This also happens to be the guiding ethos of WLEIF.

 

This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of Forbes Latvia.

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