The theme of this year’s Annual Meeting – The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models – might well have described the World Economic Forum and its mission. The lingering impact of the global financial crisis still roiled markets. Growth in the US, Europe and Japan remained sluggish. The Arab World was in the throes of profound social and political change – the Syrian civil war had erupted the year before. From Eastern Europe to the South China Sea, from the Korean Peninsula to Latin America’s rainforests, the world seemed to be in the midst of some unfathomable transformation, with countries and regions going in different directions but with interconnected effects that defied understanding.
Against this unpredictable backdrop of risk, the World Economic Forum convened its 42nd Annual Meeting with participants focused on finding new models for growth and global governance. At the top of the agenda: jobs – and how to create enough of them so that young people in particular can be gainfully employed. “We have to make capitalism and the free market much more responsive to social needs,” Klaus Schwab remarked in the closing plenary. “If business is not serving society, then business is not sustainable.”
The presence at Davos-Klosters for the first time of Global Shapers – exceptional emerging leaders in their 20s – underscored the importance of addressing youth concerns. Participants were also focused on developments in the Middle East and North Africa, more than a year after the Arab Spring had begun to reshape the region. Tunisia’s new prime minister, Hammadi Jebali, vowed that his country would draft a constitution that would guarantee freedom of the press, an independent judiciary and an end to discrimination by religion, language or gender.
From across the world, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi delivered again an address to Davos participants, this time videotaped, asking them to support Myanmar’s efforts to democratize.
President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, the G20 president, was awarded the Forum’s Global Statesmanship Award. In his address to participants, he warned Europe of the global impact of their debt crisis, calling on Eurozone countries to set up an effective financial firewall. His main advice: “Taking action now is much cheaper than taking action in the future.”
In its regional meetings, the Forum visited new places and expanded its coverage. The East Asia meeting was held in Bangkok for the first time, while the World Economic Forum on Africa took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The first World Economic Forum on the Middle East, North Africa and Eurasia convened in Istanbul. In November, the World Economic Forum on India was held in India’s National Capital Region, Gurgaon – a financial and industrial centre in the state of Haryana south of New Delhi.
At the Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai in November, the Forum hosted the inaugural Meeting of Leaders of Regional Organizations, a platform to strengthen global governance through cooperation among regional organizations.
Earlier, in Rome, Italy, the Forum held a meeting on European competitiveness. Prime Minister Mario Monti of Italy told participants: “Europe has ceased to be a machine for economic convergence. The competitiveness performances of member states are diverging. There is a competitiveness gap between the dynamic exporting economies of northern Europe and the southern economies. The debt crisis is exacerbating this gap.”
Shortly after the Rome meeting, the Forum published a new book by Klaus Schwab, The Re-emergence of Europe. In it, Schwab foresees a painful transition period as Europe goes through inevitable fiscal and political union. However, he believes Europe will prevail, with its core strengths of high human capital stock and strong governance helping to underpin sustainable economic, social and environmental change