The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum starts Tuesday. Once again, world leaders, including heads of government and ministerial representation from all but one G20 country, are among the more than 2,500 participants from over 100 countries that are gathering in this small Swiss ski area of Davos-Klosters.
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. Just managing multiple, sometimes competing daily meetings in dozens of venues in the snowy town can be challenging. But it's worth it.
The theme of this year's congress at first glance is a mouthful – "resilient dynamism." Forum founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab says the theme was chosen because resiliency is the ability to adapt to changing contexts and withstand sudden shocks, both of which are increasingly common occurrences. The challenge is to nevertheless continue pursuing critical goals while these events occur.
He also argues that we to respond to the new reality of prolonged global economic malaise, particularly in major economies experiencing economic austerity. Future growth in this new context requires dynamism – bold vision and even bolder action, Mr. Schwab says. "Either attribute – resilience or dynamism – alone is insufficient, as leadership in 2013 will require both," he wrote in a press release.
The annual WEF get-together has no rival, and remains the foremost creative force for engaging leaders in collaborative activities focused on shaping the global, regional and industry agendas. The meeting is often faulted for being elitist, and to be sure the crowd is a powerful one. However, along with more than 1,500 business leaders from the Forum's 1,000 member companies, there are also hundreds of young entrepreneurs, social activists, and representatives from civil society, media, academia and the arts.
Others have called Davos a massive gabfest, but years ago the Forum evolved from being a convener of meetings to becoming a think tank that does massive research. Today the organization intervenes in shaping the global agenda and has become a very activist organization that is having an important impact. Call it a "do tank" instead.
It goes without saying that the world is deeply broken, volatile and full of risks that could be catastrophic for the global economy and society. This is why since 2006 the WEF has released an annual Global Risks Report – identifying and analyzing risks that are shaping the global environment. This year's analysis is sobering, to say the least – looking at 50 global risks in terms of impact, likelihood and the extent to which they are connected. The report is based on a survey of more than 1000 experts from industry, government and academia.
The report explains that the biggest underlying risk is that the weak economic performance around the world undermines our ability to tackle environmental challenges. It also identifies the top two specific global risks as the severe income disparities within and between countries, followed by unsustainable government debt. In light of events ranging from Hurricane Sandy to flooding in China, respondents rated rising greenhouse gas emissions as the third most likely global risk. A special report on national resilience outlined how countries could be assigned a resilience rating, which would allow leaders to benchmark their progress.
This year, the Davos programme is ambitious to the point of mind-boggling, and it's built on three pillars. The first is "Leading through Adversity," which means boosting the resiliency of organizations, improving decision-making, and strengthening personal resilience. The second is "Restoring Economic Dynamism," which means that we achieve inclusive prosperity, rebuild economic confidence, and encourage entrepreneurial innovation. The third is "Strengthening Societal Resilience," which means reinforcing critical systems, dealing with natural resources in a sustainable manner, and establishing shared norms.
The Forum is the ultimate networking event, and that's why I'm here. New thinking about networks is critical to our planet's future success. The institutions and mechanisms responsible for global co-operation at the international level are having increasing difficulty solving global problems. Perhaps these problems are just too hard to solve, but I think not. Rather, our aging global institutions need a rethink. Today's challenges demand solutions that transcend the traditional boundaries of the nation-state – solutions that include authentic citizen voices and new initiatives in social innovation that extend beyond communities and nations to the global stage.
I am part of a year-round Forum working group that includes many of the world's leading thinkers about global governance. We're investigating new models of how global problems can be solved and how we govern ourselves globally. 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 co-operation and governance. Call them global solution networks, of which the Forum is an example.
Little has been done to evaluate what makes these networks tick, how they succeed or fail, what impact they have and how they address the tough issues of legitimacy, accountability, representation and transparency. Our group is trying to understand their potential in improving the state of the world. That meeting is one of many I'm looking forward to.
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