Tackling global challenges requires compliance infrastructure

December 7, 2015 Scott Lane

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda 2015 in Abu Dhabi. This mammoth brainstorming event kicks off the road to the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos. The Forum focuses on 10 Global Challenge Initiatives, being:

  • agriculture and food security
  • economic growth and social inclusion
  • employment, skills and human capital
  • environment and resource security
  • international trade and investment
  • infrastructure, long-term investing and development
  • future of the internet
  • future of the global financial system
  • gender parity
  • global crime and anti-corruption.

It is somewhat exciting to hear about the efforts being put into understanding these challenges and how the brightest and best are there to see how they can help to protect us from getting it wrong.

The Summit aims to foster ideas and actions that will bring positive change to global, regional and industry agendas. Over 900 world-leading experts from academia, government, business, civil society and the media convene with the goal of formulating ideas and actions to address some of the toughest challenges faced internationally.

With thought leaders belonging to over 80 Global Agenda Councils, each with its own distinct mandate, the aim of the Summit is to generate better understanding of the challenges affecting the world at the global, regional and industry levels, and to brainstorm ideas and solutions that address those challenges.

These councils are all incredibly relevant and truly reflect the challenges facing us going forward.

There is some concern and trepidation that the amazing developments that are likely to come to the world in the next 10 years appear unable to be fostered, developed, regulated and controlled by our governments. And even if governments do take positive steps to develop, regulate and control such measures, the greater fear is the lack of ability and resources within companies (and principally their compliance teams) to understand, implement and build global compliance programmes to meet these new regulations. We seem likely to experience a major technical and social revolution without the legal and compliance infrastructure to support it and with governments and their legislators being years behind any realistic attempt to manage it.

I couldn’t help but sit in these sessions and think, Where are the corporate legal people, the compliance experts and the people that can actually help build legislative and functional structures to enable the huge revolutions that are upon us?

In his opening remarks, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum Klaus Schwab spoke about the aim of the Forum to bridge government and business as we enter the fourth industrial revolution. He acknowledged that governments were key to setting the frameworks and regulatory environments to support and develop the agenda. The involvement of government will be paramount and Mr Schwab noted the challenges in setting legislative environments to foster and regulate the new global challenges.

As somewhat of an observer to the Forum, the issue of governments being ill-prepared seemed even more obvious as the Summit progressed. Every government representative involved seemed to focus on how to cultivate further development in their country, support that development with tax breaks, and provide easy and open access to any governmental research. Governments can see and understand the paradigm shift of the fourth industrial revolution and are highly focused on the development of their inherent industries, protecting and providing for more local jobs, and the expansion of their gross domestic product with these new industries.

As a lawyer and person involved in helping companies comply with legislation and internal policies, I couldn’t help think that someone needs to be sitting beside these thought leaders and engineers to work out how to build the regulatory framework to support the new product or service and then to enforce it. Time and time again we see technology changes, or even changes in service delivery (e.g. Uber and ride sharing), be implemented without any real thought given to the regulatory framework needed to develop it and then protect it. We even see countries like Hong Kong parading the launch of Uber and other changing technologies in the region, then raiding and arresting Uber staff just months later for allegedly breaching local laws.

Beside every engineer, researcher, product expert and visionary should be a compliance person, thinking how to make this change a reality in a controlled and effective way that benefits everyone across the spectrum of business and society. Legally-trained, or at least very legally-astute, compliance officers are the perfect people to provide valuable guidance to these leaders of the fourth generation and their government representatives. Not including them in the development process of our new industries is a mistake. A focus on bringing in talent purely from legislators, or even just lawyers working in law firms, is short-sighted. While ‘typical’ lawyers from law firms are part of the solution, they need to be supplemented with people from corporate legal and compliance departments who really understand business and how it operates and the practical realities of behavioural change.


The new world leaders need to think about regulatory environments differently from how they looked at them for 600 years (with prescriptive laws with fines and jail time for offenders). Perhaps in the current day, as we enter a new industrial revolution, the world needs a different legal framework to support such development. While it is still unclear what that framework is, or if it is going to be developed, it needs different minds to develop it – minds that understand legal frameworks, but also understand cultures, behaviours and motivators of people and their success. Members of the compliance industry are a good place to look for talent on developing new frameworks for regulation and enforcement.

Compliance experts:

  • are great communicators
  • are good at understanding and breaking down complex tasks
  • bring people together every day to help solve problems
  • are good at bridging business and legal systems
  • know the law and what is practicable for a company to comply with laws
  • are used to learning about industry changes and applying frameworks to them
  • write and manage company policies, approaches to issues and the corporate values that drive behaviours
  • operate for the greater good, and aren’t only thinking about the law and policy but also about values and ethics
  • understand different cultures and are excellent motivators, so are good at making people comply with a change even if they may not support it.


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