The little town of Davos, high in the Swiss Alps, is the site each year for the World Economic Forum’s meeting of politicians, policy-makers and business leaders – including senior executives from SABMiller.
On Wednesday 21 January, before sunrise, Mark Bowman, Managing Director of SABMiller Africa, heads out through the snow. He’s not the only SABMiller leader at Davos – Sue Clark, Mark’s counterpart at SABMiller Europe, is also in town.
The value of Davos for SABMiller is the opportunity to work directly on common challenges with key leaders from across government, international institutions, NGOs, the media and other businesses. Mark’s agenda includes finding partners for our sustainable development programme, ‘Prosper’, which launched in July 2014.
Prosper is wide-ranging and has real impact on the environment and on outcomes for ordinary people in more than 70 countries. We settled on calling it ‘Prosper’ because shared prosperity is both the route to success for us as a business, and the core of our contribution to society. We recognise that when our business does well, so do the local communities, economies and environment around us.
Our practical work often focuses on small farmers, helping them to grow brewing crops that improve their incomes. Other initiatives deliver business training and financial support for small shopkeepers, or education for young people about responsible drinking.
Mark’s first task on that Wednesday morning is speaking on a high-level breakfast panel entitled Decoding Growth in Africa. His opening statement reflects SABMiller’s historic past and our current business aims: “Africa is our heartland… we’re committed to this continent.”
Later that day Mark sets off across town for an important meeting with South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma. It’s productive, with the pair touching on pertinent issues such as job creation and responsible consumption of alcohol. Immediately after the meeting a photo of President Zuma and Mark is tweeted to the President’s 350,000 followers.
Responsible alcohol consumption was also on the agenda the previous afternoon when Mark was in a television studio answering questions from Bloomberg Africa’s senior anchor, Eleni Giokos. She raised recent deaths in Mozambique caused by illicit homebrew. It’s a sombre fact that half the alcohol drunk in Africa is ‘informal’ – untaxed, unregulated and sometimes deadly. Mark said to Eleni: “It’s a terrible situation and as excise tax increases, the informal alcohol market will continue.”
With another early start on the morning of Thursday 22 January, Mark speaks on behalf of the private sector in a high-level meeting on the Global Water Agenda for 2015, chaired by former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The World Economic Forum has just released its Global Risk Report, which identifies water as the world’s highest impact risk.
Increasing water scarcity, driven by the expanding middle class, climate change and population growth means that we need to play our part to ensure a reliable, clean supply of water that is managed and used as efficiently as possible. We are working on securing shared water resources for our business and local communities; building a detailed understanding of water risks where we operate and creating partnerships to tackle these risks with those that share them.
We’re also among those pushing for a Water Sustainable Development Goal to be agreed at the United Nations General Assembly in September. For Mark, the event is a “reminder that while water availability is a key issue, equally important is water quality, effluent and sanitation”.
That afternoon, Mark is in the World Food Programme Tent, for a public session on Achieving Impact through Agriculture Partnerships (Grow Africa). Mark’s opening remarks address the need to focus on investment in African agriculture, which supports 600 million people. USAID’s Raj Shah goes on to point out how companies like SABMiller are “important to growing markets in Africa”.
Other highlights of Davos for Mark include a discussion called Beyond Moore’s Law, with two Nobel laureates explaining the future of new materials such as graphene and new computational techniques such as quantum computing. “I am able to understand perhaps 10% of the session” he admits.
Mark also attends a panel discussion on the ‘internet of everything’, a world where all things are connected to the web. “Imagine every single beer bottle being connected and telling us where it is, when, where and what time it is consumed, and where it is discarded/returned. Seems too far-fetched? I'm not so sure.”
With all that high-level activity – and many consecutive hours on the go – anyone would need to find time to relax. And Mark does just that on the Wednesday evening at SABMiller’s ‘Taste of Italy Nightcap’ at the Hotel Belvedere. Picked out by Bloomberg as one of the top Davos parties, it comes complete with Peroni beer cocktails, a cool Italian vibe and a room packed with influential people.