It's Davos time again: More than 2,500 people from almost 100 countries are gathering this week in the Swiss Alps for the World Economic Forum's annual meeting. Participants include more than 40 heads of state and more than 1,500 business leaders.
This group pretty much runs everything and it's painfully obvious to most of them that there hasn't been much progress in the past year. The world is full of chronic problems, such as poorly performing economies and the epidemic of youth unemployment. We still don't have an effective climate change strategy. Citizens are questioning the legitimacy of many government institutions.
Income inequality is being highlighted as an explosive issue. The ongoing gap between the incomes of the richest and poorest citizens is the problem most likely to cause serious damage globally in the coming decade, according to more than 700 global experts that contributed to the WEF's Global Risks 2014 report, released ahead of its 44th annual meeting.
The theme of this year's meeting is a good one: "The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business." Reshaping we need.
The forum's founder and executive chairman, Klaus Schwab, told reporters recently that "What we want to do in Davos this year … is push the reset button. The world is much too much still caught in a crisis management mode and we forget that we should take now into our hands and we should look for solutions for the really fundamental issues.
"We should look at our future in a much more constructive, in a much more strategic way."
I've been coming to Davos since the mid-1990s and it is always the most stimulating, if not hectic, event for me each year. I'm often asked what the Forum is like, and what is its real meaning in terms of improving the state of the world?
The Forum began four decades ago as a meeting for European executives to discuss pressing global problems. It evolved into a think tank, researching various issues and convening other events. Today you could think of the organization as a "do tank" that is engendering many communities that are researching, discussing and taking action on a number of global problems.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, Trade Minister Ed Fast, and Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz are here representing Canada. Also attending are Quebec Premier Pauline Marois and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Mr. Baird is once again organizing a round-table meeting for the dozen Canadian executives, where we will define and debate problems and discuss solutions.
Yes, there is a lot of cynicism about the Forum's legitimacy. Critics dismiss the attendees as jet-set tycoons and business executives – and there are plenty of those here. But today this meeting of influential people from around the world represents a cross section of political and societal views.
In keeping with the theme, this year's meeting is focusing on four big ideas:
Disruptive Innovation: Scientific breakthroughs and new technologies are radically transforming how we live, learn, communicate and collaborate. How can people, organizations, industries and institutions turn disruption into long-term opportunities?
Inclusive Growth: Widening inequality and the declining potency of long-standing growth models raises fundamental concerns around global, regional and industry drivers of prosperity. What models, sectors and industries will generate resilient and equitable growth?
Society's New Expectations: The financial crisis has led to widespread erosion of confidence in business and government leaders. What are the necessary steps to orient businesses to the longer term, make governments more accountable and strengthen civic participation?
A World of 9 Billion: Thanks to growth, millions of people are wealthier, healthier and living longer lives. Yet the escape from destitution by many put high costs on resources and the environment. How can economies embark on a more sustainable path to development?
You can participate in this year's events too. "Digital Davos" will bring more of these discussions than ever to a global audience, thanks to live streaming from more than 60 sessions and live tweeting from many others.
Don Tapscott is CEO of the think-tank Tapscott Group, and Adjunct Professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. He's writing about this year's Davos summit for the Globe and Mail. Twitter: @dtapscott