A lot of thinking goes into selecting themes for World Economic Forum annual meetings. The final iteration in any given year needs to be easily understandable, appeal to different audiences and, above all, reflect the state of the world we live in. This year’s portrayal of a fractured world is a clear reference to geopolitical fault lines as well as stresses building up within societies and communities.
Now for the difficult part: How to restore a sense of international cooperation where it is needed and help societies cope with the shocks that they have had to withstand as the world around them has changed. No single action, or single actor, can pull this off of course. But if together the world can make many, small, incremental steps, then we have a chance. Here are a few of the ways the forum has been helping to achieve this over the past 12 months:
Making growth work for everyone
If the way we measure economic growth consists simply of the sum total of goods and services sold in a given year, it is hardly surprising that our societies are burdened by inequality. The future of economic progress means developing policies that lift living standards for everyone. We have developed a model to do this, and we have also looked into what some economies are getting right, and some wrong.
Tackling the gender gap
We know the gender gap is economically as well as morally wrong: We have been measuring it for 11 years. Going further, we have also conducted extensive studies into how individuals, governments and businesses can bridge the gap, and even set up taskforces in countries to put these best practices into action.
Preparing for the future
When automobiles were first developed more than 100 years ago, we had the choice to power them by electricity. We chose petrol. We are at a similarly critical stage today when it comes to ensuring that the life-altering technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are developed with the long-term interests of humans and our planet at the center. Making sure we do this is the subject of a new book by Professor Klaus Schwab, and the purpose of our Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Starting a reskilling revolution
We have known for a while that millions of jobs will be threatened by a new wave of automation. Thanks to big data, we now have a much better idea of which jobs are the most vulnerable and, crucially, what skills are needed to meet the job demand of the future. Persuading leaders to prepare for a massive round of reskilling will be one of the key priorities of our meeting.
Mapping life on earth
Ever wondered what Amazonian ants and autonomous vehicles have in common? Or tree frogs and antibiotics? When the human genome was mapped, it delivered $65 of benefits for every dollar of public money spent. We will be thinking big at this year’s meeting by looking at mapping the remaining 99 percent of life on earth that we do not already know about.
Planning for the future
What is the point of living to 100 if we cannot afford to pay for it? In 2017, we uncovered a global pension time bomb that could dwarf the global economy by 2050. Bringing together finance ministers, central bankers, labor leaders and other stakeholders, we will be trying to find ways to plug the savings gap in ways that will not hurt younger generations.
Cyber threats in our increasingly networked and digitized world are outpacing our ability to overcome them. The forum will launch a new Global Center for Cyber Security to convene all stakeholders behind a common mission of making cyberspace safe.
Preparing for a battery revolution
Our sustainable future is going to use a lot of batteries, so getting their supply chain right is vital. This means bringing an end to child labor and other labor abuses before they can be made but also preventing a huge and growing problem of e-waste after their useful lives.
Building a fourth sector
It is not charities and NGOs that are calling on business to play an enhanced role in society: Businesses themselves acknowledge that more needs to be done. One year on from the signing in Davos of a Compact for Responsive and Responsible Business, a movement is under way among some global businesses to become for-benefit organizations, integrating social and environmental aims alongside delivering value to shareholders.
Broadening the benefits of trade
The effects of globalization have illustrated the fact that headline-grabbing free trade deals do not benefit all people equally. Away from these major treaties, international trade and investment can and should play a greater role in helping small and medium-sized businesses grow in scale. Enabling e-commerce, an initiative launched in December 2017 and supported by the WTO, eWTP and forum, aims to do this by helping SMEs and entrepreneurs gain access to international markets through e-commerce.
• Oliver Cann, is head of media content at the World Economic Forum.