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A participant is reflected in a mirror during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Jan. 23, 2013. (DENIS BALIBOUSE/REUTERS)
A participant is reflected in a mirror during the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Jan. 23, 2013. (DENIS BALIBOUSE/REUTERS)

DON TAPSCOTT

Clear leadership in ‘fast-changing world’ a priority of WEF Add to ...

As I mentioned in my last posting, the World Economic Forum has moved from a once-a-year meeting in a small Swiss town to a year-round discussion looking to effect global change. One benefit of this shift is that the WEF now generates a significant amount of research, much of which is freely available to the public. Its flagship piece of research is the annual Global Agenda Outlook, which WEF describes it as a briefing document for today’s leaders. This year’s edition can be downloaded here: http://reports.weforum.org/outlook-2013/ .

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The report is well worth the time to read, and its scope could hardly be more daunting: Any issue of substantial concern to all or part of the planet. But the research team manages to produce a digestible publication that successfully wrestles a vast amount of data.

The report is a product of the WEF’s Network of Global Agenda Councils, which were created in 2008. They bring together more than 1,500 of the world’s most relevant experts from academia, business, civil society, government and international organizations. The Councils are the foundation upon which the WEF is building its system of year-round dialogue.

There are currently 88 Councils, broken into groups dealing with Economics & Finance, Environment & Sustainability, Management, Science & Technology, Society & Human Capital, and regional councils Under the Economics & Finance heading, for example, 17 councils focus on issues such as competitiveness, fiscal sustainability, global financial system, and youth unemployment.

I have worked with the “informed societies” council of the Society & Human Capital group since its formation. It’s addressing the issue of how do we inform ourselves as societies in a world where the traditional ways of doing so are collapsing.

Each council features 15-20 thought leaders, and each council is asked to challenge conventional thinking, develop fresh insights and propose innovative solutions for key global challenges. As this year’s report states: “In a global environment marked by short-term orientation and silo thinking, the [councils] foster interdisciplinary and long-term thinking about the prevailing challenges on the global agenda.” Noted one council member: “Today’s leaders have been trained in a world that no longer exists.” [Marc Davis, Partner Architect, Microsoft Online Services Division, Microsoft Corporation] In briefing materials distributed to the media, WEF said that the theme that recurs more than any other is “the need for clear, dynamic leadership in a fast changing world.” The report identifies the top five urgent issues facing governments, business and civil society are the unstable global economy; euro zone fragility; financial system instability; widening income inequality; and persistent structural unemployment.

One of the most interesting sections of the report deals with restoring values. It notes that the mistrust in governments and institutions is growing, as today’s economic and political systems struggle with the complexities and interdependencies of the 21 st century. The report asks whether it is “time to revisit the core values of business and society.”

As part of the values discussion, the report offers a provocative sampling of insights:

· The “invisible hand” is an amazing phenomenon for allocating resources, but without a moral framework that supports trust, the market cannot function.

· A functioning global governance system will not be possible as long as a global moral underpinning is lacking.

· Religion should not have a monopoly on morality. New institutions need to be aligned with a reinvigorated set of values that are inclusive of all stakeholders, including those with little voice.

· Values that hold “the common good” as a critical metric should be aimed for along with decision-making based on how future generations will be impacted. An example is moving from “resource exploitation” to “resource stewardship” as a guiding principle for all consumers, not just companies.

· Regulation and incentives are necessary but not sufficient to a healthy, functioning, market-based society. Values need to be more than theoretical – they are only valuable if they drive behaviour – hence they need to be deeply embedded.

· Role models are needed – leadership is critical to demonstrating values and ethical action.

Don Tapscott will be reporting from Davos daily for The Globe and Mail. He is an adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management and the author of 14 books. He just released a TED book (with Anthony D. Williams) called Radical Openness: Four Unexpected Principles for Success. Twitter: @dtapscott

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