| Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman
In two important ways, this past year marked a return to familiar territory for the World Economic Forum. First, under the banner History at a Turning Point, our institution reconvened physically for the first time in two and a half years in Davos-Klosters. The fact that we could meet again after a forced interruption due to COVID was an important milestone in and of itself. It allowed our constituents – including business, government and NGO leaders – to strengthen existing bonds and build new ones. Those bonds matter greatly, as international and public-private trust and cooperation serve as humanity’s glue, allowing all of us to move forward together.
Second, and more important still, was the progress made on major projects the Forum initiated, such as the First Movers Coalition for climate innovations, or Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics for environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) measurement. Such critical initiatives, reflected in this Annual Report, show that business leaders are serious about “walking the talk” of stakeholder engagement. It gives me hope that we are on the right path to build a more sustainable, inclusive and resilient economic system in the future.
But the past year also showed us there can be no room for complacency. The fact that we still see horrible devastation caused by war is proof of the dangers we face. But everworsening climate change, the spread of diseases such as COVID, and the social inequality in societies also continue to be warning signs. These events and trends tell us that tomorrow’s world won’t be the one we grew up in and that we have been used to. They tell us that our hard work is necessary, but also that we must turn up the dial.
In these divisive times, our work rests on our deep commitment to sustaining an open platform for all stakeholders of global society to express their private or collective opinions. We welcome a diversity of ideas, expressed in the spirit of respectful discourse and dialogue. We believe that differences within and between societies can be bridged, and that we can and must strive for a golden mean.
During many years in history, the main societal dividing line in our world was the division between the left and the right, between socialism and capitalism. In that ideological battle, our natural position was that of a bridge-builder between the two sides. We have always been deeply convinced of the creative force of entrepreneurship. But we also believe that a free and open market system has to simultaneously generate prosperity, serve the people and take care of the planet. Those principles were already enshrined in the Davos Manifesto approved by our members 50 years ago, and further reconfirmed in an updated Manifesto in 2020. Our engagement in developing universally comparable ESG metrics in recent years was a logical consequence of walking the talk to have stakeholder capitalism.
Today, a new dividing line exists in politics and society. It is the division between globalism and nationalism, between cooperation and protectionism, between embracing the new and preserving the old. The divide is new, but the reflexes are as old as humankind. And again in this era, the Forum continues to act as a bridge-builder. We all live on this planet, and so our destiny is interconnected. We have no other choice than to embrace global cooperation if we want to avoid political, ecological or social disasters. But as before, the priority must be the well-being of people.
Therefore, the World Economic Forum operates today following four global principles.
First, we have a duty to go against the disintegrating forces of our global system.
Certainly, there are valid reasons for calling into question globalization with economic freedom as the key driver. Since the mid-1990s, some of us, including myself, started to warn in various publications that globalization was a two edged sword. But we cannot forget that we are undeniably interconnected and interdependent as part of a common destiny. Respect for global cohabitation and cooperation is the prerequisite to safeguard our crowded planet, and to safeguard it from extinction.
Second, we believe that the big challenges before us cannot be addressed by government or business or civil society alone.
We need joint efforts on a sustained and impact-oriented basis. For this reason, the beating heart of the World Economic Forum is our many multistakeholder initiatives. This past year, from our work on climate and nature, to the commitment of over 160 partner companies on ESG metrics, all of our constituents engaged in a way we have never seen before, and the number of our partners increased by 9% despite the great uncertainty related to our in-person meetings.
Third, if we really want to improve the State of the World, we must take a systemic approach.
We must recognize that political, economic, social, ecological and technological issues today are all deeply interwoven. If we continue to follow the old paradigm of governance and address issues individually, we will go from disappointment to disillusion. Well-intended initiatives targeting one problem area would almost all fail, as they would either prove ineffective or lead to unintended consequences elsewhere. We must thus embrace the reality of systemic leadership. It is essential to address all dimensions of the global challenges we are facing.
Fourth, we have conceptualized – under the notion of the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the fact that many global developments are driven by exponential progress in new technological domains.
These technologies represent risks and challenges for society as well as for global cooperation. However, they can also be used for the benefit of humankind, helping address many of our most critical issues in healthcare, energy and agriculture, just to name a few. At the Forum, we are now deeply engaged in an initiative, called the Global Cooperation Village, to see how these technologies, particularly in the metaverse, can be used to strengthen global interaction and cooperation.
As you read this Annual Report, you will see the concrete progress that our organization has made in a variety of initiatives. You will see how our engagement with business, government, civil society and the young generation has evolved and deepened. But what we are most proud of this year is that we have continued to be a bridge-builder in a world where international cooperation is increasingly under pressure.
The mounting social pressures that we have observed, particularly in the past months, have led us to place ever greater emphasis on ensuring that all parts of society are truly represented and engaged. This is not only reflected in the strong participation of civil society organizations in our events and initiatives, but it is also demonstrated by the Forum’s support of its three affiliated foundations: the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the Global Shapers Community.
We deeply believe that the theme of our Annual Meeting 2022 – History at a Turning Point – also refers to our own future and how we serve global cooperation. We must be prepared for new challenges, as well as the need to calibrate, adapt and innovate on the basis of a strong foundation, namely the trusted relationships that we have built with our stakeholders and the service and commitment of our uniquely dedicated staff.
| Børge Brende, President of the Managing Board
Over the past year, the World Economic Forum established itself as the impact-driven International Organization for Public-Private Cooperation.
At a time of profound geopolitical turmoil, we reaffirmed the criticality of strengthening mechanisms of cooperation and collaboration. The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting returned to Davos-Klosters for the first time since early 2020, reconvening leaders from the public and private sectors to address urgent humanitarian, security and economic challenges, as well as long-standing environmental and societal priorities. In doing so, we integrated into our Annual Meeting the work streams and initiatives that were launched virtually over the past two-and-a-half years, when meeting in person was not possible. Throughout, our focus was to ensure that the Forum brings stakeholders together for purpose-driven dialogue – meaning, dialogue that generates impact.
That the membership of the Forum increased over the past year is testament to the strong commitment stakeholders have in playing an active role in shaping a positive future, especially during such a consequential period. After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the World Economic Forum responded immediately and decisively. We convened a special CEO dialogue to identify steps business can take to address the humanitarian crisis and we brought together leaders from global humanitarian agencies to share key priorities.
The current moment of discord calls for an examination of what has stood the test of time – and the test of turmoil – when it comes to cooperation. What we have seen over the past year is that the core principles that have guided the Forum since its inception are more vital than ever before, namely, the need for business to serve as a key actor and as a close partner with government in advancing effective, sustainable outcomes to societal and global priorities. We have also seen other Forum principles continue to serve as vital compasses that direct stakeholders amid today’s turbulence, guiding the possibility of focused cooperative arrangements to advance shared environmental and economic interests, the need for human-centred technological progress and innovation, and the importance of engaging diverse and young voices in our shared efforts.
These principles are put into action each day at the Forum.
Consider the role of business in society. A record 1,200 businesses engaged with the Forum this past year. The Centre for the New Economy and Society launched its Good Work Alliance, a group of over 20 global companies working together to build a healthy, resilient and equitable future of work. The Centre’s Chief Human Resources Officers community mobilized to help resettle and employ thousands of Ukrainian refugees. And in the Centre for Industry Transformation, many of our Industry Action Groups worked to deliver positive impact for the planet. That work included such endeavours as the Low-Carbon Emitting Technologies initiative, which is upscaling low-carbon emitting technologies in the chemical sector, and the Transitioning Industrial Clusters towards Net Zero project to accelerate the transition and alignment of industrial clusters globally towards net-zero emissions.
The Forum also increased the reach and scope of its efforts to amplify public-private cooperation, most notably through the Centre for Nature and Climate. The First Movers Coalition, developed in collaboration with the office of the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, is aggregating the purchasing commitments of its business members to serve as a demand driver for innovative technologies needed to decarbonize “hard-to-abate” sectors. These kinds of innovative public-private partnerships provide a new way to address the climate crisis, combining the market and purchasing power of the private sector with the convening power of governments. Similarly, the Tropical Forest Alliance, which this past year convened 28 countries and 12 of the largest agribusinesses at the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, committed to reducing deforestation and enhancing supply chain actions in line with the maximum 1.5° C global warming threshold.
The climate crisis and economic uncertainty point to the need for focused cooperation, even if countries do not see eye to eye on every other issue. The Forum’s Centre for Regional and Global Cooperation continued to host Global and Regional Action Groups – each of which convened approximately 50 leaders from business and government for regular meetings – to identify ways stakeholders can work together on issues such as shaping a more inclusive global economy. And the Centre’s Platform for Shaping the Future of Trade and Investment brought together over 100 global companies to work with governments and international organizations to promote open and stable commerce. The Breaking the Impasse initiative, which is led by Israeli and Palestinian business leaders who committed to a two-state solution, and the Diplomacy Dialogue on the Western Balkans attest to the Forum’s continued efforts to advance diplomatic progress on complex geopolitical issues.
The past year also revealed just how profound the impact of technology is on people’s daily lives, and on humanity itself. Technological solutions allowed hundreds of millions of people to carry on working, learning and living while social and economic life was curtailed. But this past year also revealed how unequally the fruits of technological progress are being shared, with the most tech-savvy individuals and companies making the greatest financial strides while many others were left behind. Technology must be human-centred, and that is a focal point of the work of the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which now counts 15 national and subnational Centres including those newly opened in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Serbia. The Centre’s 30 initiatives include creating National AI Strategy frameworks to ensure new technologies spread around the world. They also include the Global Coalition for Digital Safety, and the Small and Medium Sized Enterprises Futures Network, initiatives that make sure technology works positively for all actors in society.
Ultimately, our work means nothing if it is not supported and shaped by the stakeholders of the future. In this regard, the work of the Forum Foundations, including the Global Shapers, Young Global Leaders and Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs, once again inspired the entire organization. The Shapers launched their Youth Recovery Plan, calling for a stop to new coal, oil and gas exploration, a clear sign of where the priorities of today’s youth lie. And, in the summer of 2021, Global Shapers and alumni responded to rising violence in Afghanistan by helping 75 Afghan Global Shapers and their families evacuate the country. In March 2022, Global Shapers in Ukraine launched SupportUkraineNow.
These examples remind us why our efforts are so important. Only by bringing business, government, civil society, expert voices and young people together can Forum communities truly make an impact and improve the state of the world.