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The world as a "global village" established itself as the dominant theme last week at The Industry Summit in an unprecedented four-day program at MIT and Harvard University involving some 800 corporate, government and academic leaders from 53 countries.
In 100 meetings-workshops, interactive sessions and three plenary sessions-some 350 speakers, including about 90 MIT faculty members, addressed fundamental issues facing industries throughout the world in a highly competitive, post-cold war economy.
They focused on 11 key industry sectors but ranged widely over the global landscape.
Repeatedly, the delegates heard that a true global economy, leading to the betterment of society as a whole, would depend on such key ingredients-worldwide-as improved education, scientific and technological development, free markets, information technology and protection of the environment-not necessarily in that order.
Massachusetts Governor William F. Weld, an active participant throughout the summit, said in his summing up on Sunday that the conference demonstrated "an inescapable connection between global events and any domestic economy." Stating that "the whole world is now everybody's partner," he warned against "those who say exports are great, but we're not so sure about international trade." He added, "You can't have it both ways."
MIT President Charles M. Vest said an MIT group of faculty, students and staff, in a statement issued at the start of the summit, had reminded the participants that "we as leaders must remember the stewardship we have for the weak and the disadvantaged among the world's population and the stewardship for the environment."
MIT Provost Mark S. Wrighton, chairing a plenary session which focused on the environment, said the summit provided an important mechanism to extend the dialogue on critical issues such as the environment among leaders in education, research, business and government.
"AT MIT, we believe that we can address major probolems with the proper balance of idealism and pragmatism, and perhaps this view will sustain us as we take on-together with governments, industries and other academic institutions-challenges posed by environmental problems," he said.
Klaus Schwab, president of the World Economic Forum of Geneva, Switzerland, put it this way at the final plenary session on Sunday: "The necessity of global networking integrating business, business leaders, government leaders and science has been outlined here again and again. We are living together in a global village," he said. "If we want to survive, we must share values and create values."
The summit was convened by the World Economic Forum and MIT in collaboration with Harvard. Members of the MIT and Harvard communities were among those who attended the interactive and plenary sessions.
The plenary sessions, at Kresge Auditorium on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, were the summit showcases.
First Plenary Session
In the plenary session kicking off The Industry Summit, panelists agreed that free markets are crucial for worldwide economic growth and that government's role should generally be limited to creating a fiscal and educational environment conducive to that growth.
Government should act "as a referee rather than as a spectator or a player," Governor Weld said at the session, which addressed the role of national government in global industry.
"We don't pick winners or losers, but we do want to create an atmosphere where winners can win" by "privatizing and making government responsive to market forces," he said.
Percy Barnevik, president and chief executive officer of Asea Brown Boveri Ltd. of Switzerland, and John H. Gibbons, assistant to President Clinton for science and technology, advocated the promotion of education as a key government responsibility. "Those countries with the best educated population will climb up the technology ladder. They will become the winners," Barnevik said.
Another government responsibility, particularly in the Third World, is to provide the means of controlling population, Gibbons said. "If we have a collective charge that reaches over the span of generations, it is to help provide the kind of family health and family planning capabilities for people to choose their own destiny, their own progeny," he said.
Robert Galvin, chairman of the executive board of Motorola, Inc. echoed Weld's sentiment that government's role is to create a hospitable environment for private ownership and investment. "Government must come to understand that investments, honorably made and wherever made, are always in our best interest," he said. Even overseas investment enhances the "wealth-creating ability" of the company in question, he noted.
Information technology has resulted in a world-wide "borderless economy," observed Hisashi Owada, Japan's vice minister of foreign affairs. Governments should now strive for "convergence or harmonization of our respective economies" and establishment of new international rules, because growing economic globalization means that a country's economic policy is no longer a strictly domestic matter, Owada added.
Second Plenary Session
Humankind survived eons as the victim of the natural world's ravages to become nature's potential destroyer. It now recognizes the need for international cooperation to preserve the environment, speakers said, but a management system capable of accomplishing the task has yet to be fashioned.
The second session, which asked, "Ecological governance: Who is in charge?", was co-chaired by Provost Wrighton and Harvard President Neil Rudenstine. The panel consisted of Erhard Busek, science-technology minister, Austria; Jacques-Yves Cousteau; Nitin D. Desai, UN undersecretary for policy coordination and sustainable development; Aarnout A. Loudon, chairman-CEO, Akzo, The Netherlands; Maurice Strong, secretary general,1992 UN conference in Rio de Janeiro on environment and development. He is chief executive officer of Ontario Hydro.
Captain Cousteau, introduced by Professor Wrighton as "the environmental conscience of the world for decades," said we must become "relentless protectors of nature" to attack environmental problems that ignore international borders.
Mr. Strong called the Rio conference a "promising roadmap" of needed action. The major problem will be overcoming what he called a "lack of political will" to address issues.
Mr. Busek said transfer of environmental technology to developing nations was crucial. "We are in competition with time and I think we need to hurry up."
Mr. Desai said a government's perception of national interest is shaped by the views of business and science, and better international connections are needed among these groups.
Mr. Loudon said the need to sustain the present should not be subordinated to the concern to create a sustainable future. This view, he said, was not sufficiently present on the agenda for the Rio conference.
Third Plenary Session
The third session, chaired by Governor Weld and Professor Fred Moavenzadeh, addressed the topic, "The New World Divide: Is Technology the Gap or the Bridge?" It began with a recitation by Boris G. Saltykov, minister of science, higher education and technological policy of Russia, of the economic and social problems facing that country.
The former Soviet Union's reliance on a centralized system has left Russia devoid of normal economic incentives, "no normal system of marketing maximization," insufficient resources for even a normal level of improvement in key areas and "no specialists in financial infrastructure," he said.
In addition, he said, science and technology "exists for itself" and does not seek to provide applications that will benefit the consumer.
His remarks contrasted with those of Robert B. Palmer, president and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation, described by Governor Weld as one of the world's most technologically advanced companies. He said the world was "in the midst of a revolution in information technology" largely due to the "rapid and unrelenting rate of computer storage capacity."
As an example, he said that the amount of computer power for a given price is now doubling every 18 months.
He also called attention to the growth of computer networks, which he said already have 10 million users in 70 countries. While largely used now for personal purposes and e-mail, they will be increasingly used by business and commerce, he predicted.
MIT economics professor Lester C. Thurow noted that 40 percent of the new world had made "enormous" economic advances which he said depend in large part on having "an effective government that can make decisions" to have a export-led, open-market economy.
He said this can occur in nations with either democratic or authoritarian governments, both of which have had economic successes and failures.
The "great divide," he said, is between those countries that have or want educational skills and those that don't, because in the former case "you can acquire technology, and that is the secret of success."
At the end of the session, both President Schwab of the World Economic Forum and President Vest expressed their gratitude to Professor Moavenzadeh, director of the Center for Construction Research and Education, for his efforts as MIT summit director.
Summing up, President Vest said he viewed the summit as "the initial stage of an ongoing process."
One of the important questions raised, he said, was how to emphasize the unifying forces and properties of technology and suppress its divisive tendencies. In the same vein, he said, "how do we on a worldwide basis establish the appropriate policies and legal frameworks that will allow us to benefit from the rapid gains of technology?"
Concluding, he said MIT had two principal summit goals. One, he said, was to exert leadership at a time of significant transformation and the second, he told the delegates, was "to learn from you, and I can assure you that has occurred."
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 1993 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 6).