Mr. Trump comes to Davos: A chance to mix business with pressure on violent extremism?

Mr. Trump comes to Davos: A chance to mix business with pressure on violent extremism?
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE is going to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum.  He will be the first sitting U.S. president in almost 20 years to attend the annual gathering of world leaders and business executives. The president likely will remind the assembled CEOs of the lower tax rates and booming stock market in the United States under his leadership.

However, the visit offers a unique opportunity for Trump to do more than simply grandstand. He could achieve something that neither of his two predecessors in the post-9/11 world was able to do: mobilize business leaders around the world to join forces and invest more of their resources and innovation to help tackle the problem of violent extremism.  

Over the past 16 years, leader after leader has emphasized the need for increased global cooperation to defeat international terrorist groups. Different international coalitions have emerged, generally under U.S. leadership, to deepen collaboration, leverage resources, share burdens and firm-up commitments to address the terrorist threat. Some have involved governments (e.g., the Global Counterterrorism Forum or the Coalition to Defeat ISIS); others have focused on cities or civil society networks, including those involving youth, women and “former” extremists.


Continuing this trend, last summer, the four major social media companies joined forces to launch the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism to work on technological solutions to stop terrorists from using their platforms. Yet, conspicuously missing from the international ecosystem to address terrorist violence — which, according to the 2017 Global Terrorism Index,  affected more countries at 77 than any previous year — are private companies beyond the technology sector, those in industries such as oil and gas, textiles, food and beverage, extractives, agriculture and hospitality.

With his legendary business experience, a cabinet stocked with CEOs from corporate America — starting with a former CEO of the world’s largest company (ExxonMobil) as his secretary of State — Trump may be uniquely placed to successfully make the case for more corporate involvement.

The business case is compelling: violent extremism poses a clear threat to companies, employees and customers. Terrorism severs supply chains, drains local labor pools, prevents access to markets and shakes investor confidence. Estimated economic losses from terrorism in 2016 exceeded $80 billion, without including the indirect impact that it has on business and investment.

The security argument for more private sector also is salient. Although ISIS and its self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria have fallen, the threat has not gone away. We need to prioritize preventing the cycle of radicalization and the feelings of marginalization and social and economic exclusion that study after study confirm to be among the leading reasons why young people are radicalized and recruited to join terrorist groups.

Although there is much that governments can, and should, do on the social and economic front to prevent the next ISIS from emerging, it remains to be seen whether the Trump team will invest the resources in these critical non-military ingredients. This makes it all the more important to leverage the private sector’s comparative advantages going forward.

The private sector can help to share the financial and other burdens, and that should appeal to Trump. Corporations can contribute in a myriad of ways. They can:

  • Target vocational training and employment opportunities for young men in traditionally marginalized communities;
  • Invest their corporate social responsibility resources in marginalized communities most susceptible to extremist and other forms of violence;
  • Join with their respective governments in providing grants to community-based organizations that offer positive alternatives, whether educational, vocational, cultural or others, to young people who otherwise might be vulnerable to terrorist propaganda;
  • Provide training, mentoring or branding expertise to grassroots organizations working on different projects with youth, teachers or community leaders to prevent violent extremism.

To help sustain corporate involvement and interest in this agenda, Trump should ask the World Economic Forum to establish a task force composed of the corporate, financial and media elites to implement and sustain those efforts.

If the president wanted to play to the home crowd, he could call on the gathered elites to invest their financial and other resources in the Geneva-based Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund. GCERF was established with strong Swiss (and U.S.) government support in 2014 as a public-private fund to provide grants to grassroots organizations on the front lines of the fight against terrorism. It has mobilized over $30 million from 12 government donors, but little to nothing from the private sector.  

With its multi-stakeholder structure, its process for vetting of project proposals and its branding, GCERF reduces the risk that the business community perceives about getting involved in initiatives that address violent extremism, and thus the organization offers a simple way for companies to respond to the president’s call to action.  

Whether in private meetings or in his public remarks in Davos, Trump should invite business executives from around the globe and across the private sector to invest in local solutions to prevent violent extremism from taking root — whether in communities where they do business, where they or their supply chains are based, and/or where their employees and customers live.

If past is prologue, the president is unlikely to resist the temptation that the Davos audience offers to declare all the ways he is “making America great again,” including through anti-free trade and anti-immigration policies and a populist agenda that runs counter to the very ethos of the World Economic Forum. However, the hope is that, instead, he might choose to surprise the gathered elites with a thoughtful and timely proposal to address a critical gap in the global counterterrorism ecosystem.

America and the rest of the international community will be safer and better for business if the private sector can do more to help put terrorist groups, such as ISIS, out of business.

Eric Rosand is director of the Prevention Project, non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a former senior counterterrorism official in the U.S. Department of State. Follow him on Twitter @RosandEric.

Alistair Millar is founder and chairman of the Global Center on Cooperative Security in Washington. Follow him on Twitter @AlistairMillar1.