Friday, November 28, 2014

A Global Platform for Global Issues

DAVOS – As the world enters 2013, talk of participation in a “global community” is running high. But we continue to see signs – and, more important, behavior – that run counter to such claims.

There are many reasons for this, but chief among them is the velocity, interconnectivity, and complexity of global, national, and even individual change. Unprecedented shifts and growing imbalances – between consumption and production, savings and investment, economy and ecology, social inclusion and marginalization, and equality and disparity – persist and incubate within a complex global system in which there is no “risk-off” switch.

For more than 40 years, world leaders have gathered annually in Davos to discuss and advance the most critical issues on the global agenda. This year, the list of problems to be discussed is a long one that includes the unresolved debt problems in the United States and Europe, the troubling global economic outlook, the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa, and the bulge in youth unemployment.

Clearly, the need for global cooperation has never been greater, and governments, business, or civil society cannot meet our challenges alone. Surveying these issues, it seems that the world remains in crisis mode, with many expressing little hope that the situation – particularly the economy – will improve. But we forget how much the state of the world has improved.

When the World Economic Forum was established in 1971, the global population was roughly four billion, of which 50% lived in poverty. Today, roughly seven billion people inhabit the world, and the number living in unacceptable conditions is the same. Average global life expectancy has increased by ten years – from 60 to 70 – since 1970. Likewise, consider the number of authoritarian regimes that collapsed and democracies born in the last 40 years. And the global economy still grew by 4% over the last three years, despite experiencing the deepest global recession since 1945.

We still have far to go, but we must not forget about the real progress that has been made in relative terms.

To stem today’s spiral of pessimism and avoid the burnout of crisis management, we must look at the future in a much more positive, constructive, and dynamic manner, gaining the resilience to adapt to changing contexts, withstand sudden shocks, and recover from them while still pursuing critical goals. Combining a dynamic, “upbeat” approach – bold vision and even bolder action – with the necessary measures to strengthen risk resilience is critical for a successful future. Thus, the theme of this year’s Annual Meeting in Davos is “Resilient Dynamism.”

Overall, I would like the Annual Meeting to achieve two additional objectives this year. First, the economic crisis has created a more defensive, more self-centered, and – at the level of states – more protectionist attitude. Grand unifying visions are missing, and the pressure for separation, not union, continues to increase. This has stalled progress on many of the issues – including reducing carbon emissions, establishing global financial regulatory measures, and concluding the Doha Round of global trade talks, to name a few – that require global attention.

Embracing the Forum’s motto – “Entrepreneurship in the global public interest” – the Davos discussions are governed by a genuine spirit of global citizenship. This means examining solutions that are in the global community’s interest (while also complementing national and local interests), particularly with future generations in mind.

The Forum has always promoted the notion of corporate social responsibility – or, expressed differently, of business leaders being accountable not only to their employees and shareholders, but also to their communities and society at large. So, my second objective for Davos this year is for all leaders to recognize that along with their economic responsibilities come moral as well as social obligations.

Corporate social responsibility is measured in terms of businesses improving conditions for their employees, shareholders, communities, and environment. But moral responsibility goes further, reflecting the need for corporations to address fundamental ethical issues such as inclusion, dignity, and equality.

It is my hope that the Annual Meeting will serve as a catalyst and integrator for initiatives that advance key issues on the global agenda. As Einstein cautioned, “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

We must each take responsibility within our own sphere of action – making it more dynamic and resilient to risk – acting as true global trustees, underpinned by moral accountability for humanity. This is the world we live in; we each have a role to play.

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    1. CommentedPhilip Palij

      We ordinary mortals have had a good look at the effects of economic and geopolitical globalisation and to say the least we are cynical. While cooing bands of billionaires pontificate on their role as self-appointed global trustees at Davos, others of their ilk are buying up futures in grain causing mass starvation through increased prices.

      We watch in ever increasing contempt vast mighty corporations avoiding taxes by exploiting weaknesses in the global fabric of the law, beyond it, deliberately so.

      We watch the US and its giant corporations despoil the world unchecked, we watch its version of democracy imposed around the globe sick as it is, failing as it is a shell operated by its over mighty financial and corporate institutions.

      It is possible you mean well Herr Schawb, your task is a hard one, you and your billionaires will not be able to stop drones murdering innocent civilians in lands few of us can even name.

      Globalisation without laws to regulate it or where they are selectively enforced where they already exist makes it a sham.

      Globalisation that destroys a nations industry and agriculture such that it cannot feed or clothe itself in times of hardship. That leaves a nations economic decisions in the hands of suited directors in lands far far away, divorced from the cultures they destroy.

      No wonder you find the global vision of happy economic families an increasingly difficult sell. To many flaws for we mortals.

      You might just have to persuade you delegates to consider a somewhat modified path to enlightenment and a guilt free conscience.


    2. Portrait of Nils-Göran Areskoug

      CommentedNils-Göran Areskoug

      This year's annual meeting has reached a closure. I watched the tenets during the week. As everyone knows World Economic Forum is a remarkable event. Not the least, it offers a unique arena for dialogue among the ones who govern our world. It brings key stakeholders from government, business and civil society together to speak out frankly on their perceptions of the destiny of the world. Some truly great moments are created when power players, more often restrained at home, feel comfortable on the Alps, and in their chairs around moderators, media, and participating public. The value of providing this informal ground for conversation is immense. I believe the "resilient dynamism" can be found more inside this warm and emotional setting than outside in the cold air. It is difficult for the persons to hide in the spotlight and discussions sometimes trigger a competition towards revealing an even better moral compass for the world to go.

      This year I valued hearing a few of the most seasoned and experienced guests. All of them had messages of profound strategic implication. It is rare to encounter people like Henry Kissinger, David Cameron, Mario Draghi, Bill Gates, Jim Yong Kim, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson and Helle Thorning-Schmidt in the same place. But the “grand unifying visions” requested by Professor Schwab to overcome the crises of the world will more likely come from people who have cultivated their independence and fostered true creativity. The focus on politics and economics needs to be balanced by people rooted in more diverse layers of society, including disciplines like arts and sciences, to allow necessary cross-fertilization of ideas. Dialogues need to become more truly transdisciplinary, not merely exchanging views, and integrating knowledge across a broader variety of experiences. Even Corporate Social Responsibility needs to be driven by ingenious solutions and bold action among entrepreneurial minds. The best potential for change often arises from the greatest minds and such people are not likely to rely on thin economic theory.

      Still, there is no place in the world where so many people feel committed to clarifying the prospect of humanity and where the passion for improving the state of the world is shared to that extent, in an atmosphere of global citizenship.

      I feel deeply grateful for the great service to societies around the globe that Professor Schwab and his team do provide in getting some of the best people together at one spot during the annual meetings in Davos.

    3. CommentedMoctar Aboubacar

      Two things worry me about what you are saying.

      1) The first objective you lay out sounds nice in theory; countries coming together to cooperate to face current and emerging global problems. But it is not so clear whose resilience is being targeted. When companies in France lay off workers and then have the remainder sign agreements to work longer hours for less pay in exchange for five years of supposedly guaranteed jobs, it is not the worker who is gaining in resilience.
      For the World Economic Forum to dabble in the 'social' is great, but not if it is to further skew current imbalances among economic actors for the sake of a nebulous economic recover.

      2) The social responsibility of corporations (when it takes the name CSR) has in a lot of cases been a mixed blessing for developing economies and for the international development/aid agenda. Despite some very successful examples, it has meant in some cases less accountability, less transparency and less sustainable change. These need to be addressed not as a caveat, not as a secondary thought, but as part of the main agenda.
      CSR is going on, and will be taking place even without Davos. Davos' role may be more effective if it comes down to more than simply promoting CSR and offering different successful stories and models. Davos could contribute to the growing interest in CSR by nuancing the concept, by showing people the candid failures as well as successes.

      Well, now that things are already underway I have no choice but to sit and watch...

    4. CommentedWaleed Addas

      “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

      Excuse me Mr. Schwab, but our problem lies exactly in the above statement!

      As long as the human race keeps thinking that through its own thought-process alone (without any guidance from God) that it will be able to fix the problems of this world, it will continue to face crisis on its way. Did we create this world? No. But we surely messed it up with corruption on earth.

      There is only one way for humanity to progress with minimum pain; what I coined as the three R's:

      R1: Revelation.....(Complete Guidance for All Humanity)
      R2: Reason........(Rational Thought fostered by R1)
      R3: Reality.......(Developing the Physical and Social Worlds)

      As long as you will all be always stuck between R2 and R3 at Davos, you will never reach a global solution for our global problems.

      For more details, please refer to the most perfect socio-economic system prescribed for all humanity under R1 (for me, it is in the teachings of Islam which also encompasses all the earlier prophetic series of teachings e.g. Judaism and Christianity).

      Is anyone listening?!