The economic and financial crisis of the past year underscored the extent to which, after experiencing the ‘globalisation of opportunities’, we are now facing the ‘globalisation of problems.’ This shift reflects the transformation of a world which has become much more interconnected, interdependent and complex, characterized by many new state and non-state players.
Today, although the impact of the crisis appears to be diminishing, an atmosphere of complacency has descended, even as the recovery process remains fragile. The momentum calling for comprehensive reforms has slowed and the compulsion for international cooperation has weakened, as demonstrated recently in Copenhagen.
As we continue to absorb lessons from the crisis, it is clear that this year will be an exceedingly challenging one. The fiscal and monetary prescriptions to ease the pain of global economic shocks are now fuelling anxieties about the creation of new economic bubbles.
Moreover, the demographic, behavioural and technological changes linked to the collapse in global demand, combined with the persistent overcapacity in many industries, are challenging basic assumptions about the nascent recovery. In addition, global risks such as climate change, nuclear proliferation and pandemics have reached unprecedented heights of urgency.
If we focus solely on crisis management, we will continue to fuel the downward spiral. Denial of unpleasant or politically inconvenient truths, combined with the herd instinct, is what has caused us to rely on systems which were unrealistic and unsustainable in the first place. Clearly, moments of crises create moments of opportunity to introduce better ideas and to inject positive change in the global system, drawing on the engagement of all stakeholders of global society.
It is clear that 2010 represents a tipping point in global history, and that the management of our future requires us above all to do it in the framework of rethinking our values, redesigning our systems and rebuilding our institutions.
One of the fundamental preconditions in rethinking our values framework should not only be anchored on social responsibility and environmental sustainability, but also on increased equity.
Rethinking our values provides the foundation for the necessary redesign of our systems, adapting them to the needs of society in the 21st century. This redesign must take place on all levels, but particularly on the global level, comprising the necessary framework, for example, for global financial and trade flows. These redesign efforts require a common vision, collaborative innovation and public-private partnerships for their long-term success.
Rethinking our values and redesigning our systems naturally leads to the rebuilding of our institutions - to make them more proactive and strategic; more inclusive, fostering greater multistakeholder engagement; more reflective of the new geo-political and geo-economic structures; and more inclusive of inter-generational accountability and responsibility.
The bricks we are using to build the post-crisis world can be found in new concepts which are based on greater citizen involvement and stronger government partnerships with other non-state actors. We have to incorporate much more expertise and knowledge into our global decision-making processes; we have to use social networking as an empowerment tool and more effectively harness our digital capital; we have to listen more intensively to the next generation.
While there are many existing institutions that are well-placed to look at discrete aspects of the challenges facing the world, none have the mandate to examine the global situation in an integrated and holistic manner, nor do they have the range of stakeholders and constituencies that would enable them to perform such a task adequately.
It is clear that what the world needs most today is integration and cooperation. We will never meet the challenges if we do it alone. We must reach beyond our own silos, building links with other people and organizations.
The basis of any progress made in the complex and fast moving world of the 21st century is the capability to understand the motivations of all the different stakeholders of society and to gain true insights into the nature of the issues. This can only be achieved through dialogue amongst those who have responsibility for shaping the global agenda. Such a discourse is the precondition for sound and enlightened decision-making. To provide the platform for such a comprehensive and authentic dialogue is the unique contribution which Davos – at the beginning of each year – can make to the world.
Klaus Schwab is founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum