Building an International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation

A Global Brains Trust and the Crisis

Recognizing the complexity of global challenges and the need for innovative collaborative approaches, the World Economic Forum created the Network of Global Agenda Councils.


The initial 68 Global Agenda Councils (there are over 80 today), each consisting of 15-30 experts on an issue on the global agenda, convened in November for the first Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai. The Forum’s vision was to engage the sharpest minds from various perspectives to explore cross-cutting links across issues. In an environment marked by short-term thinking in silos, the network fosters long-range interdisciplinary approaches to shaping viable solutions.

The Summit proved timely, in light of the unfolding global economic crisis. The discussions distilled useful input for the G20 Summit days later and for the new US administration that would take office in January 2009. Participants delivered a critical message: the world needed to examine the basic operating systems that drive its economies, markets and societies and aim for a “fundamental reboot” to rebuild trust and confidence and commit to sustainability, social responsibility and ethical principles. This call for renewal led to the launch at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the Global Redesign Initiative (GRI), a wide-ranging effort to review the international economic and financial system and look at how to reform institutions and practices of global governance.

In a speech at the Annual Meeting, Microsoft founder Bill Gates outlined his concept of “creative capitalism”. Gates’s idea closely aligned with “global corporate citizenship” which Schwab had described in the January/February 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs.1 Said Gates in Davos: “[Both frameworks] go beyond the concepts of corporate philanthropy, including social investing; corporate social responsibility; and corporate social entrepreneurship in that it entails focusing on ‘the global space’, which is increasingly shaped by forces beyond the control of nation states. Global corporations have not only a license to operate in this arena but also a civic duty to contribute to sustaining the world’s well-being in cooperation with governments and civil society.”

Through its Gleneagles Dialogue Industry Partners Project and together with the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, the Forum helped business leaders shape climate discussions at the G8 Summit in Hokkaido, Japan. Before the event, Klaus Schwab presented to Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in Tokyo detailed recommendations including measures that collectively would have entailed significantly closer collaboration between governments and business than was the case with the Kyoto Protocol, if they had been adopted at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009.

In September, just weeks after Beijing had successfully hosted a spectacular Olympic Games and days after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the second Annual Meeting of the New Champions took place in Tianjin under the theme “The Next Wave of Growth”. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao again delivered the opening address.

At the end of 2008 and into 2009, the world dipped into its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the late 1920s. In an essay that appeared in The Times newspaper of London in November 2008, Klaus Schwab hoped that the crisis would have “a transformational character” and “that the conscious adoption of a business ethos based on the comprehensive and long-term stakeholder principle, instead of the one-sided, short-term shareholder principle, becomes one positive outcome of this crisis.”2

The Davos Debates on YouTube reached over 8 million people, making it the first-ever global video conversation between the general public and the world leaders who participated in the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2008 in Davos.

  1. Klaus Schwab, “Global Corporate Citizenship: Working With Governments and Civil Society”, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2008
  2. Klaus Schwab, “Financial crisis is a chance for positive change”, The Times, 4 November 2008