At the time of writing, over 2000 political and business elites from around the world were gathering in the Swiss town of Davos for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) from January 16-20. The theme of the 2023 meeting is Cooperation in a fragmented world.
The WEF was founded in 1971 by Klaus Schwab, a Swiss-German economist and professor, with the objective of fostering global cooperation on political, social and economic issues. The Forum’s mission statement is “Committed to improving the state of the world”.
The annual meeting in Davos is largely seen as a forum without equal, where global elites gather to find solutions to some of the world’s most vexing problems. Over the years, the WEF has had some successes. For example, in 1988, an agreement known as the Davos Declaration was signed at the Forum and this brought about a detente between Turkey (now Türkiye) and Greece which were close to armed conflict at the time.
In 1992, Nelson Mandela and the then South African president Frederik Willem de Klerk, made a joint appearance at Davos, seen by many as a significant step towards ending apartheid.
Furthermore, in 2000, the Global Vaccine Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) was launched at the WEF. Gavi has since gone on to immunise more than 760 million children around the world.
Ahead of the forum, the WEF had released its “Global Risks Report 2023”, where it outlined some of the biggest challenges likely to affect humanity in the coming years.
For example, the Report highlights that the five biggest risks facing the world in the next two years are the cost-of-living crisis, natural disasters and extreme weather events, geo-economic confrontation, failure to mitigate climate change and societal polarisation.
By 2033, the WEF has assessed that the five major global risks are likely to be failure to mitigate climate change, failure of climate change adaptation, natural disasters and extreme weather events, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse and large-scale involuntary migration.
Of course, the WEF is not without its critics. For starters, some see the Forum as nothing more than a talk shop for the world’s rich and well connected. Peter Goodman, a global economics correspondent for The New York Times, in his book ‘Davos Man’, has highlighted the inherent contradiction in asking billionaires and other elites whom critics blame for causing the world’s biggest problems to finding solutions to them.
These critiques aside, the scale of today’s problems requires an all-hands-on deck approach to solve them. None of these problems will be solved if individuals, corporations, governments and organisations with influence and means retreat to their ivory towers.
The harsh reality is that there are few bright spots in the world at the moment.
Several predictions point to some difficult years ahead.
The Collins Dictionary’s word of the year for 2022 is “permacrisis” – a combination of “permanent” and “crisis”, perhaps a good description of where the world is today. As the Washington Post Columnist, Ishaan Tharoor notes, it has become common to talk of a permacrisis of a world “buckling under a never-ending cascade of calamity — war, climate catastrophe, energy price chaos, inflation, epidemics of hunger and disease, political instability and widening economic inequity.”
These are certainly concerns which will occupy the minds of those who gathered at Davos for the 2023 WEF. Ultimately, these are also concerns that ordinary people, without the buffer of dollars and connections, must also contend with on a daily basis.
We need to come to a point where a new path is mapped out in relation to the problems of the world. The world is not lacking in intellectual, financial and other resources to solve many of its problems. The shortage resides in vision, conviction, leadership and willpower.
Joel K Richards is a Vincentian national living and working in Europe in the field of international trade and development.