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.

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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.