If we could see the future, it would be Asian and urban. Since 2008, a majority of the world’s population has been living in a city and by 2050 only a quarter of us will be clinging to life in the countryside. The rise of the mega-city, particularly in India and China, is one of the most exciting but challenging social transformations of our age. By 2025 there will be eleven cities in Asia with populations over twenty million.
The risk consequences are significant. Crime, corruption, chronic poverty and extremism all prosper when rapid urbanisation is not matched by well planned infrastructure and good governance. The population of the world’s slums is growing by 25 million each year. Doing business successfully in these new environments will demand re-thinking all aspects of our business processes; none more so than the management of risk. The consequences of long-term shifts in urbanisation are by no means confined to Asia. But inevitably India, and particularly China, seem to have a near monopoly on jaw-dropping statistics.
And it is China that figures prominently in our exploration of how the global geo-political map is being redrawn. The economic resilience of the rising powers – so key in averting catastrophe in the financial crisis – is now reflected in the conduct of international affairs. China, India, Russia, Brazil, Turkey all, to varying degrees, are shaping the way the world is run and want to influence how we fix its problems.
China’s role in the world is the story behind nearly all the major themes for next year and it dominates the thinking of her near neighbours. That China is the regional power is beyond dispute but relations remain cordial at best and are more often characterised by a persistent prickliness. China’s historic reluctance to take an active foreign policy stance beyond protecting its immediate national and economic interests will start to shift. China will be less passive and ambiguous and more explicit and assertive in its dealings with us all.
Corruption will be the most pervasive operational risk in 2011. The new evangelism with which the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) is being enforced in the United States will likely intensify and with stringent laws being enacted elsewhere (the UK Bribery Act which will come into force in 2011 is the FCPA on steroids), corruption should be emblazoned across all corporate risk registers. Good intentions are not enough; the new global enforcement regime requires boards to actively demonstrate real compliance through the tangled webs of joint ventures, agency agreements and distributors that is the everyday reality of transnational business.
Much has been written about the perils of this new multi-polar world where newly self-confident powers jostle for strategic advantage over scarce resources and emboldened regulators stalk well-meaning companies at every turn. But it is possible that a better balanced distribution of power, more accurately reflecting global economic gravity, might bring a new perspective and determination to break political log jams. Similarly, higher standards of corporate governance will in the end make life a lot easier – even if in the short-term the playing field might seem to be at a distinct tilt.
If 54% of the world’s urban population will live in enormous Asian cities by 2050, then fixing carbon emissions, for instance, stops being a multi-lateral football and becomes a national imperative for the countries concerned. So there is some room for long-term optimism