Thomas Hardy’s 1874 literary masterpiece, Far from the Maddening Crowd, captured the tranquility of his idyllic, utopian, Wessex countryside, among other subjects. The charming panoramic settings of the cascading hills and valleys of the Davos resort, sandwiched within the Swiss Graubünden canton, evoke a strikingly similar symbolism. Only this time, the Davos World Economic Forum Summit (WEF) 2023 is very real in a dystopian world!
The convergence of extreme volatility, significant uncertainties, policy complexities and strategic ambiguities around the world presents challenging, conflicting challenges vast in scope and scale for heads of government, global business titans, leaders of multilateral agencies, top financial institutions, activists and others does. , at this year’s WEF. No wonder this year’s theme is aptly titled Collaboration in a Fractured World. And you can bet the world needs it!
Therefore, what are the innovative ideas and substantive policy initiatives that have emerged from the previous summits and the most recent summit on January 16-20, 2023, as it pertains; The solution to the devastating Russian vs. Ukrainian war that has lasted nearly a year? global recession? Climate change? Digital Inclusivity? Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), Artificial Intelligence and the Metaverse? poor elimination? Open market and increased international trade? Epidemic Curb? conflict resolution?
From its initial foundation in 1971 as the European Management Forum, driven by its founder, Klaus Schwab, Professor of Business Strategy at the University of Geneva, it morphed in 1987 into the World Economic Forum (WEF) with a strategic purpose. Platform for resolution of global conflicts and issues with notable successes. An example of this was the 1988 Davos Declaration, which helped normalize relations between Greece and Turkey, after years of tension, and was instrumental in reversing what at the time looked like a drastic advance to war. Played.
After decades of minority rule in apartheid South Africa, the dismantling of international economic sanctions, and intense global pressure for truly inclusive democratic reform, the then President, FW de Klerk (1989–1994), convened the first UN Convention in Davos in 1992. Had a joint first meeting. Madiba Nelson Mandela, the then leader of the African National Congress, and Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the founder of the Inkatha Freedom Party. The meeting was in the run-up to the first multi-racial elections in South Africa, in which Nelson Mandela emerged as the first African to be elected President of that country (1994–1999).
Again, Davos appears to have positively affected, if only diplomatically, the Israeli versus Palestinian debacle over the disputed territories. The 1994 WEF marked the appearance of hitherto sworn enemies, Shimon Peres, former Israeli Foreign Secretary, later Prime Minister (1984–1986, 1995–1996) and Yasser Arafat, former Palestinian leader (1969–2004), who The original was for negotiation. At the time, paradoxically, the Abrahamic dynasty advanced the peace process between the two warring neighbors.
In response to the need for inclusivity and apparently to deflect the perception of its Atlanticist and Eurocentric stance, in 2007 the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) and China reported the decision to set up an annual summer meeting of developing economies. That said, Russia’s isolation by the United States, European and other allies, as a result of the former’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, tests the limits of the WEF’s stated inclusiveness in its pursuit of global peace and cooperation.
Another important achievement of the WEF is the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which was conceived at the 2015 Davos summit. CEPI envisions a world responding collaboratively and innovatively through vaccine development for the next virus, Z, within 100 days; So that the devastating effects of possible epidemics can be reduced. CEPI’s initial USD460 million was created by the Gates Foundation, a consortium including Norway, Japan and India. This is an astonishing aspiration given that the average time for vaccine development is about 10 years! CEPI’s initial targets for vaccine development were six epidemic infectious diseases (EIDs): i.) Ebola virus disease (EBV); ii.) Lassa fever; iii.) Marburg fever; iv.) Mars; v.) Nipah virus (NiV); and, vi.) Zika.
For example, between January 21 and 24, 2020, CEPI leaders met with health chiefs in Davos to establish plans for a COVID-19 vaccine, focusing more on the early stages of COVID-19 . At that time, the global confirmed cases stood at 274 including 16 deaths. Barely 3 years later, as of January 23, 2023, there have been 664,097,132 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 6,716,108 deaths; Also, according to the World Health Organisation, a total of 13,131, 550, 798 vaccine doses have been administered till 17 January 2023.
Furthermore, WEF founder Klaus Schwab is credited with the concept of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or 41R. It explores the rapid and dynamic changes in artificial intelligence, the metaverse, smarter automation, industrialization, social patterns, technology and hyper-connectivity in the 21st century and beyond. More importantly, the emergence of 4IR affords humanity within the province of advanced robotics, gene editing, financial intermediation, cancer treatment, medical science and even legal practice; Thereby blurring the boundaries between physical, biological and digital realms.
Despite its groundbreaking innovations, the WEF has been criticized on several fronts. A serious allegation is that it has indirectly taken over the democratic institutions and decision-making process. For example, the Transnational Institute (TNI) claims that all groups, such as Davos, constitute “a silent coup” to seize the regime. In other words, Davos replaces the democratic legitimacy of national parliaments. Is this necessarily true?
Another criticism is that it is prohibitively expensive for the average entrepreneur and corporate organization. For example, rates for strategic partners were US$527,000 in 2011, while this increased to US$628,000 in 2014, a 19.2% increase in three years! However, is WEF targeted at every entrepreneur or corporate organization?
The World Economic Forum’s tax status as a non-profit foundation and its integrity have also been questioned, especially given the global focus on fiscal transparency.
Other criticisms include the high public cost of security, the opaque decision-making process, and the lack of transparency in determining who is invited and who is not, as well as the adverse environmental impact of its annual meetings in Davos alone.
In short, of course, the World Economic Forum is not “come one, come all” and was never envisaged to be so. By all objective assessments, it is a gathering of some of the world’s best minds and top global organizations. Naturally, the intellectual value proposition offered by both segments reinforces the rationale for the divestiture of participation by world leaders, business giants and others.
On the issue of the WEF’s “occupation” of democratic institutions, this controversy logically exhausts the argument. How can a non-profit organization “occupy” democratic institutions? Ultimately, neither a single country nor organization sets the global agenda and its priorities. Also, no real or physical entity is obligated to participate in Davos. In addition, its Governing Board has a broad-based international representation with brilliant minds who have successfully led global businesses, multilateral agencies and/or national institutions. Certainly, these skills are brought into the strategic aspirations of the WEF.
In terms of policy, initiatives that advance research and medical science, political coordination, open markets, and free trade have joined the WEF. For example, the WEF’s 2020 Nature Risks Report estimated that about 50% of the world’s GDP was highly or moderately dependent on nature. For example, cocoa, coffee, maize, cotton, wheat, gold, silver, crude oil, natural gas etc. The report established that USD1 spent on nature and environmental protection was more likely to not yield nearly US$9 in benefits. Despite the profit incentive, the implications for environmental protection are immeasurable. And while there is no direct link between the conclusions of the report and pan-European environmental policy, it is nevertheless worth noting that the European Union, through Commission Decision (EU) 2022/2358 of 1 December 2022, Article 1008 of Regulation 20/2008, in respect of France, accepted time bound restrictions on short distance flights of less than 2.5 hours where viable alternatives exist.
Of course, no single institution or nation has a monopoly of knowledge in solving all the complex variables affecting humanity and global coexistence. It therefore stands to reason that collaboration between the private, public and non-profit sectors increases, rather than decreases, our ability to address complex global challenges. One recommendation is that it should be appropriately encouraged whether under the aegis of WEF or other regional or national groups.
Second, for the WEF to engage in closed-door political talks on the Russian vs. Ukrainian debacle. This is because established institutions such as the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, the African Union and others have achieved modest success in ending conflict warfare. Furthermore, the WEF has previously been successful in negotiating between warring parties with positive results in the past. As long as thousands of innocent lives are lost and pragmatic approaches justify serious ideas, the world should not look away.
Third, the WEF should broaden the focus of the Leading Uplink Innovation Challenge, an important outcome arising from Davos 2023. Akanksha aims to brigade innovators, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and other stakeholders in addressing environmental and social entrepreneurship concerns. The case for extending this model to other regional centres. The findings from the San Francisco pilot will undoubtedly provide some valuable insight in that regard.
Fourth, while CEPI is a laudable initiative that has benefitted mankind, there is insufficient sensitivity towards its role. It should be widened with a view to attracting impressive contributions from philanthropic and like-minded organizations.
Although Thomas Hardy’s idyllic Wessex weaved it’s initial threads in Davos, it still maintains its primacy as a forum for crafting innovative compacts, ideas and policies that help shape a better world for all. does.
Ozumu is Principal Partner at Balliol Myers LP, a firm of legal advisors in Lagos, Nigeria.