Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

Overcoming Indifference with the “Davos Secret”

The silver anniversary brought to the fore a host of concerns about the implications of an increasingly globalized and interdependent world.


This year marked the 25th anniversary of the World Economic Forum. The occasion prompted Klaus Schwab to reflect on the organization’s achievements. In the Forum’s Annual Report, he wrote that, “since 1971, I have continued to devote myself to the fascinating journey of an entrepreneur in the global public interest. The need still clearly exists for intensive, personal interaction at the highest level globally, particularly today in a world with a vast number of players, all under tremendous time pressure.”1

Economic, business and social uncertainty has become a permanent characteristic of today’s world. Societies and nations risk being subverted by international crime, corruption and terror campaigns, not to mention threats from environmental degradation, disease and the social consequences of poverty, especially in the least developed parts of the world. Interdependence means that indifference to what is happening in the world is not an option and extremism is a real danger to open societies.

To promote global cooperation, Schwab put together and published the book Overcoming Indifference: Ten Key Challenges in Today’s Changing World. He believed that the world was at a critical turning point. It was imperative to reassess the fundamental assumptions of global society. Yet this pressing need had been met with indifference, Schwab argued.

The book’s title was borrowed from activist and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s contribution to the collection of essays on issues of long-term global concern. The worst enemy and the biggest challenge facing the world was – and is – indifference, Wiesel wrote.

The 10 key challenges identified in the book were:

  • Coping with the disintegration of value systems
  • Maintaining global security
  • Facing the new inequalities
  • Ensuring sustainability in an overpopulated world
  • Living in the new information society
  • Keeping pace with a globalizing economy
  • Integrating Asia
  • Creating sufficient employment
  • Ensuring national policy-making in a global world
  • Re-engineering the corporation

All remain relevant today.

Cultural leaders are always among the participants at the Annual Meeting in Davos, contributing their special insights and approaches to global issues. After the 1995 Meeting, Ben Okri wrote to Schwab about what the Nigerian poet and novelist called the “Davos secret, or the Davos dream”. The Forum, he declared, “gets better and better, more encompassing, more useful and more enriching. Future ages will refer to it as one of the secret wellsprings of the 20th century that helped with the renewal of the human spirit.”2

  1. Klaus Schwab, “Message to our members”, Annual Report 1994-1995, World Economic Forum
  2. Ben Okri, Letter to Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum, 1995