Leadership Feb, 2024

The World Economic Forum 2024: A Round Up


January—synonymous with new year’s resolutions, good intentions and the annual World Economic Forum.

A quick walk through the history of WEF

Founded in 1971, this international not-for-profit organisation was established by Swiss-German economist and professor, Klaus Schwab to foster global cooperation on political, social, and economic issues.

With the mission statement “committed to improving the state of the world”, WEF’s aim was to unite public and private sectors to discuss and brainstorm potential solutions to global issues.

Davos comes with a sizable price tag. While it is free for WEF members to attend, WEF membership is reportedly £52,000. Tickets cost around £20,000, if you’re lucky enough to be selected to receive an invite.

Past achievements

In 1988, an agreement signed at the meeting, known as the Davos Declaration, was credited with helping Turkey and Greece step back from the brink of an armed conflict.

Again, in 1992, Nelson Mandela and then South African president FW de Klerk made their first joint appearance together on the international stage at Davos, arguably a significant step towards ending apartheid. The pair won the Nobel Peace Prize the following year.

In 2000, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi) was launched at Davos and as a result has since improved access to vaccines for millions and contributed to the vaccination of 760 million children worldwide.

This year’s guestlist

Attending this summit of the world’s global elite, there were 3,000 participants including 1,600 business leaders, 350 heads of state, government ministers, academics, civil society leaders and entrepreneurs.

Among the 60 heads of state or government and 40 foreign ministers was Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, making his first appearance since the beginning of the war in Ukraine.

French President Emmanuel Macron, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and UK politicians including Keir Starmer, Jeremy Hunt and Rachel Reeves were also in attendance.

The 1,800 business participants consisted of circa 800 CEOs or board chairs and included WEF mainstays, Marc Benioff from Salesforce, Vas Narasimhan from Novartis, and Mark Schneider, CEO of Nestlé.

Sergio Ermotti, CEO of UBS Group spoke at a workshop about whether banks are ready for the future – a timely discussion considering it’s been less than a year after UBS’s takeover of Credit Suisse in a deal coordinated by the Swiss government.

The CEOs that were tipped to attract the most attention were leading tech pioneers such as OpenAI founder Sam Altman and DeepLearning.AI CEO Jack Hidary.

The agenda

The theme of this year’s event was ‘Rebuilding trust’ which focused on the cornerstones of driving trust—transparency, consistency and accountability.

The jam packed event schedule consisted of over 450 sessions and workshops and the launch of over 50 high-impact initiatives across the following four areas:

  • Advancements in artificial intelligence and its governance
  • Climate, nature and energy
  • Economic growth and trade
  • People, equity and human development

What topics took centre stage in the discussion?

The conflict in Gaza, Israel and Ukraine weighed heavily on attendees’ minds with WEF commenting“this year’s meeting convened against the most complex geopolitical and geoeconomic backdrop in decades, making the need for purpose-driven, impactful action all the more important.”

Also being mulled over was WEF’s latest survey of chief economists, conducted in November and December, where 56% said they expect the global economy to weaken this year.

As expected, in addition to geopolitics, questions about artificial intelligence dominated the conversation including:

  • How transformational will it be?
  • Will it run rogue?
  • What does it mean for jobs?

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman did his best to allay fears saying: “It will change the world much less than we all think and it will change jobs much less than we all think.” Nonetheless, the call for “responsible” AI was loud.

Salesforce president and chief financial officer Amy Weaver amplified the importance of companies who were still unsure about investing in artificial intelligence still have important AI-related work they can do in the meantime and that was to get their data houses in order.

The climate crisis also dominated the dialogue with several panels focused on the increasing awareness about how climate change affects human health.

Here’s a selection of some of the over 50 announcements and initiatives launched at Davos:

Advancements in artificial intelligence and its governance

The Global Cybersecurity Outlook 2024 report was launched, highlighting key solutions to tackle cyber inequity and the profound impact of emerging technologies

A new report was published on innovations in quantum computing that showed how to mitigate new, complex risks posed by emerging technologies.

The AI Governance Alliance announced a new global effort to increase AI access by improving data quality and availability across nations, boosting access to computational resources, and adapting foundation models to suit local needs and challenges, releasing three papers on tackling AI governance challenges and shaping responsible and inclusive practices.

Economic growth and trade

The Forum published new dataon current trends in the fintech industry.

The Future of Industrial Strategies initiative released a paper that sheds light on new industrial policy trends and opportunities.

One of the new trade-facilitating initiatives included a project aimed at streamlining regional trade in East Africa and a project to measure trade efficiency in El Salvador. The Digital FDI Initiative announced new country projects in Oman and Cyprus.

Climate, nature and energy

1t.org, the World Economic Forum’s trillion trees platform, announced over 100 companies pledging to conserve, restore and grow 12 billion trees.

The Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders stepped up efforts to reduce Scope 3 emissions, and underscored 10 high-impact measures for governments and businesses in its annual report.

The First Movers Coalition for Industry which brings members together in an effort to decarbonise the global economy.

People, equity and human development

Jobs Consortium members endorsed the World Economic Forum’s Jobs Initiative to develop lighthouses of generative AI-driven job transitions in 2024, and the Forum released a paper on large language models and jobs.

The Gender Parity Sprint was created, a new coalition of business, international organisations and government leaders committing to accelerating economic parity by 2030 within their leadership, supply chains and wider communities, complemented by national efforts in nearly 15 Country Accelerators. The 2024 edition of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Lighthouses provides case studies for embedding equity in the workplace.

Over 35 organisations developed the Longevity Economy Principles to support healthy, prosperous and resilient long lives.

It will be interesting to see how big a splash these initiatives will make in the coming year and if they further help cement the World Economic Forum’s place as the leading arena for global dialogue and deliberation.

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