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The European skiers have once again checked into the hotels of this small Swiss village, replacing the attendees of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. (ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS)
The European skiers have once again checked into the hotels of this small Swiss village, replacing the attendees of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. (ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS)

World Economic Forum

Examining the true meaning of Davos Add to ...

Through its Women Leaders and Gender Parity Programme, the Forum is getting high-level leaders to pledge personal and organizational commitments towards gender parity. The goal is to close the economic gender gap through best practice exchange, collaboration and innovation.

The Forum also helped form a group known as the Young Global Leaders, which brings together 700 exceptional young people under the age of 40 who share a commitment to shaping the global future. Members come from all around the world, and represent business, government, civil society, arts & culture, academia and media, as well as social entrepreneurs. The group is an independent not-for-profit foundation supervised by the Swiss government. It works closely with the Forum to integrate young leaders into deep interaction with other stakeholders of global society.

In a trip to Sao Paulo last year, I met with a number of my young Twitter followers who created a hashtag #coffeewithDon. One of these, 25-year-old Tomás de Lara, was building a successful crowd-sourcing platform to finance social entrepreneurs in Brazil. He asked me about the Forum and I told him about the Global Shapers – a Forum community of thousands of young leaders under the age of 30 in cities around the world. I arrived at Davos this year to learn that Mr. de Lara was one of the Global Shapers in attendance. We celebrated his success and discussed his plans going forward.

The meaning of Davos

The key point is that the Forum is really an example of a new model of global problem solving, co-operation and governance.

Throughout the 20th century, nation-states co-operated to build global institutions to facilitate joint action and address global problems. Many of these organizations were created in the aftermath of the Second World War. They include the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations, the G8, the World Trade Organization and numerous other organizations based on nation-states. For decades, these large international institutions, including the European Union, have wrestled with some of the world’s most intractable problems –the kind of problems that don’t fit neatly into departmental pigeonholes.

But progress has been slow or non-existent.

Just look at the inability of the G8 and G20 to address the global economic crisis; the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization; and the Copenhagen and Cancun conferences on climate change. They show that formal international systems for co-operation are failing in achieving world goals of economic growth, climate protection, poverty eradication, conflict avoidance, human security and behaviour based on shared values.

Conversely, many of the positive developments happening around the world, such as the struggles for democracy in North Africa, are not being made because of our global systems for co-operation but rather through new networks of citizens, civil society organizations and other stakeholders uniting around a common cause.

Today we see a fundamental change emerging regarding how global problems can be solved. New non-state networks of civil society, private-sector, government and individual stakeholders are achieving new forms of co-operation, social change and even the production of global public value. They address every conceivable issue facing humanity, from poverty, human rights, health and the environment, to economic policy, war and even the governance of the Internet itself.

Enabled by the digital revolution, these networks are now proliferating across the planet and increasingly having an important impact in solving global problems and enabling global cooperation and governance. Call them global solution networks, of which the World Economic Forum is a prime example.

It was a network of governments, private companies, civil society organizations, and individual citizens – the new four pillars of society – that organized to solve the crisis in Haiti. Rather than building more massive global bureaucracies, it makes sense to embrace more agile, networked structures enabled by global networks for new kinds of collaboration.

As I said in the CBC exchange with Mr. Chakrabortty, people like him throw mud on the windshield of progress. They do a disservice to the hard-working people around the world in organizations like the Forum that are trying to make a difference.

To be sure, there are tough issues with all these new networks. To whom are they accountable? They may be inspired, but are they legitimate? Ultimately, these new approaches will be measured by their efficacy – as the world scrutinizes their actual impact on solving global problems.

But if you ask Marc Kielburger, Geoff Cape, Juliana Rotich or Tomás de Lara, they’ll tell you that this is, in fact, progress.

Don Tapscott reportedfrom Davos daily for The Globe and Mail. This is his last instalment. 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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