Three thousand of the world’s most important business leaders and politicians will gather together to discuss the most pressing issues facing the world this week.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting in Davos has long been one of the defining events of the year and an opportunity to set the agenda for the global stage.
This year, however, it’s hard to ignore the difference in mood, brought about by a new political landscape. The US election and populist votes in Italy and UK have revealed a gulf between the political and business elites and the working people living outside of major metropolitan areas. Ordinary citizens around the world have sent a powerful message: their concerns about the impact of globalisation on meaningful jobs, stagnant wages and open trade and borders have been overlooked by the establishment for too long.
It is now clearer than ever before that a top-down approach to problem-solving is no longer working. Elites do not speak the same language as the masses and are often disconnected from their everyday lives and problems. The time has come to re-engage, and listen to their issues, or risk becoming even more divided. In the past, global gatherings were all largely focused on globalisation and its benefits. Now, they must go beyond this and put a much-needed focus on addressing the negative impacts of globalisation.
Gatherings like Davos must be more ambitious in bridging the gap between wealthy and working-class, old and young, north and south. Too often, the topics and issues on the agenda at these types of events are described in the technocratic language of business that is neutral and non-committal.
Young people make up 50 per cent of the world’s population, but are underrepresented in global affairs. This is something that has concerned me for some time now, and it is positive, therefore, that WEF has invited more than 200 millennials from around the world to participate this year. Let’s hope this isn’t a case of too little, too late though when it comes to Davos’s impact in the future.
Harnessing technology will be key to create direct engagement with young people. Using sophisticated analysis of social networks can help young leaders in Davos expand their reach and play a more effective role in kickstarting new initiatives. But there’s still much more that elite gatherings can do to encourage better engagement. For example, why not leverage the power of virtual reality to immerse conference-goers in the real-life situations they are debating, enabling a more empathetic and considered response?
Finding innovative solutions for addressing unemployment, especially among young people, should also be at the top of the agenda of every gathering and institution. Without doubt, it is one of the greatest challenges facing the world today and should be top priority of any leader in any country. It is critical to improving public health, preventing terrorism, war and violence, and reducing inequality.
Governments are debt-ridden, while many corporations are very profitable. Yet both are impacted by the challenge of jobless youth. So why couldn’t corporations dedicate a percentage of their profits to support and finance vocational training programs? Business and government leaders at Davos can follow the lead of an innovative partnership between Unesco and telecommunications provider Airtel Gabon, which is training more than 5,000 young Gabonese men and women to use ICT. Or the initiative taken by the Misk foundation in Saudi Arabia to enable 2,000 young people from the region to debate about the world of tomorrow.
Just as Davos has been effective in the past in convincing business and government leaders to take issues such as climate change more seriously, it must now use its unique power to shift the debate on globalisation and address the rising concerns about things like job security, wages and border control. With so many leaders in attendance, there is no better place to make real change and begin to bridge the gap between elites and ordinary people once and for all.