On 23–26 January 2018, world leaders will gather for the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, to address global geostrategic fissures − and the potential political, economic and social consequences. We look at what to expect and analyse the issues that will define this year’s forum.
So-called strongmen speaking with inflammatory tongues, nationalist movements calling for closed borders, ongoing uncertainty stemming from referendums, and an increasing divide between rich and poor are some of the urgent concerns the world needs to remedy.
The stated aim of the 48th World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting is to “rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world”. Focusing on global co-design, co-creation and collaboration, the gathering aims to build commitment and social cohesion across the planet.
Representatives from governments, international organisations, business, civil society, the media, and youth organisations from all over the world will come together to engage, discuss and devise solutions to the world’s ills. More than 3,000 participants representing 100 countries – including 50 heads of state – are set to attend.
For the first time in history, all of the seven co-chairs are women; Sharan Burrow, general secretary at the International Trade Union Confederation; Fabiola Gianotti, director-general at the European Organization for Nuclear Research; Isabelle Kocher, CEO of ENGIE; Christine Lagarde, managing director at International Monetary Fund; Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM; Chetna Sinha, founder of Mann Deshi Foundation; and Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg.
Gender equality has been a regular talking point and aspiration at WEF. Female participation increased from nine to 15% between 2001 and 2005. In 2016, 18% of the WEF attendees were female, rising to 21% in 2017.
Established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation, WEF is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. It is independent and impartial in its efforts to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance.
However, WEF will need to work harder at shedding the image of being a meeting room for the global elite. Nevertheless, during its almost 50 years of existence, it has hosted global icons such as Nelson Mandela and been the site of historic meetings. In 1989, for instance, Davos hosted the first ministerial-level meeting between North and South Korea, and another between East and West Germany.
In 2017, Xi Jinping became the first Chinese president to attend the event. In the same year, famous faces such as singer Shakira and actor Forest Whittaker received awards, while Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, actor Matt Damon and Jack Ma – the Chinese billionaire and founder of Alibaba – were present.
Indeed, the shimmering of celebrity lights up the event, with famous faces attending several official cocktail receptions as well as high-profile parties big and small hosted by major global corporations.
JPMorgan Chase rented out the Kirchner Museum Davos for drinks, and Google’s annual party at the InterContinental Hotel is one of the most popular gatherings.
While there is much glamour and festivities involved, the focus at Davos remains the same today as it was upon its inception.
“Creating a shared future in a fractured world requires addressing issues on the global agenda in a holistic, interconnected and future-oriented way,” said Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of WEF. “Our annual meeting in Davos provides an exceptional platform for collaboration to create new, global initiatives.”
One major topic for discussion is what artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics might mean for the global workforce and the society as a whole. The implications are huge and there have already been calls from major players in AI, such as Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for regulatory constraints on aspirational goals.
Automation has already been the cause of the loss of 86% of manufacturing jobs in the US between 1997 and 2007. This number is set to rise around the world, bringing with it hitherto unknown ramifications for the way we understand the world.
These are just some of the big-picture issues the world faces. It’s up to those in power to guide the rest of humanity through these shadowy lands. Hopefully, Davos can be the place to make this happen.