Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

Change, Celebration and Competitiveness

In his speech at Davos, Henry Kissinger focused on “the constantly changing world” and the age of global interdependence.


By this year, the 10th anniversary of the European Management Forum, the list of corporate members increased to over 300, among them the most successful European enterprises and an increasing number of international companies. At the 1980 European Management Symposium, Henry Kissinger, who had stepped down as US secretary of state in January 1977, delivered the opening address. Before he spoke, the Forum awarded him a prize created to mark its first decade. The German-born former Harvard professor and 1973 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whom Klaus Schwab had first met when he had been a student at Harvard in 1966 and regarded as a mentor, was honoured for his contributions to international cooperation.

Kissinger warned of “a dilution of confidence in classic economic models, a challenge to the capitalist system,” but also noted “a demoralization of the socialist systems which nowhere have produced the satisfaction of the human personality.” He concluded: “All of these changes are global and would make ours a period of turmoil – even apart from any specific challenge that we face.”1

Another significant development was the decision to replace the Arab-European and Latin

America-European symposia in Montreux, both held biennially, with more country-oriented activities such as missions and “Geneva Meetings” or one-day in-depth events at the Forum bringing together important public figures with about 70 members.

In addition to the traditional Europe-focused country roundtables, the Forum organized three missions, including one to several Gulf countries with programmes in Riyadh, Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Kuwait, as well a visit of Arab ministers and business leaders to Germany and Austria, and a European business delegation to China.

The second edition of the European Competitiveness Report now included Japan, the United States and Canada in its evaluations. It also provided, for reference purposes, major statistics on two newly industrialized countries (NICs), Brazil and Mexico. The report attracted worldwide notice.

Today, the release of the annual Global Competitiveness Report draws the most media – and government – attention of any Forum activity except for the Davos meeting. This underscores the credibility and authority that the Global Competitiveness Report has gained over the past 30 years, becoming an indispensable tool that many countries use to set reform priorities.

Klaus Schwab recalls a meeting he had in the 1980s with Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, whose country had achieved the top position in the ranking that year. After Schwab congratulated Lee, the prime minister responded by noting that Singapore had received only a mediocre score in education. As a result, he told Schwab, his government had decided to reform the country’s educational system to ensure that it performed better in future.

  1. Henry Kissinger, Opening Address to the European Management Symposium, Davos, 31 January 1980