The World is changing at a breath-taking pace. In the past year, it seems to have become a darker place, marked by deepening geopolitical fault-lines which jeopardise the era of economic expansion, integration and partnership that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Rapid change is a consequence of the complex interdependence of today’s world as well as profound political, economic, social and, above all, technological transformations. These changes are all the more unsettling because they are driven by factors we often don’t understand, and have consequences we struggle to foresee.
Dialogue and exchange between all stakeholders in society is critical to chart a course through this complex terrain. In this regard, the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum – taking place in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 21-24 January – provides an unparalleled platform.
Under the theme “The New Global Context”, it will evaluate the immediate and long-term implications of critical trends, including escalating geopolitical tensions, the expected normalisation of monetary policy, and the economic and social repercussions of unabated climate change, youth unemployment and income inequality.
Leaders from across business, government, international organisations, academia, civil society, culture and the arts will explore these shifts through four thematic tracks:
GROWTH AND STABILITY
Economic recovery after the financial crisis has been mainly the result of expansionary monetary policy.
While this has prevented economies from falling apart, the chances of misapplication are high, including excessive risk-taking, the build-up of asset bubbles and capital outflows that inflate assets and potentially destabilise other economies.
Have regulators identified the right policies to mitigate systemic financial risks? Are markets mispricing geopolitical threats? How can economic growth models become more dynamic, inclusive and resilient?
CRISIS AND CO-OPERATION
Emerging economies are growing more powerful and assertive, both regionally and globally – yet rather than a repeat of uni- or bipolar hegemony a concert of interdependent and stronger regions seems to be the most likely scenario.
Will global governance stall as US leadership weakens? Will the rise of geo-economic competition derail economic growth and integration? How can a world of “decentred globalism” deliver the necessary levels of co-operation in areas such as climate governance, cybersecurity and international trade and investment?
SOCIETY AND SECURITY
Social instability occurs when political systems fail to adjust to change. Growing economic inequalities and deepening polarisation indicate this is a major risk. Advanced and emerging economies alike need new ways of responding to shifting demands without further weakening social cohesion.
How can excessive wealth and income inequality be tackled while stimulating growth and innovation? Are democratic institutions sinking deeper into decision-making paralysis, hindering meaningful action when it comes to addressing rising inequality and other societal and environmental challenges?
INNOVATION AND INDUSTRY
Technological, demographic and economic forces are profoundly transforming industries and markets in areas such as health care, financial services, energy, manufacturing and retail. At the same time, concerns over low productivity growth are increasing, and large firms face criticism for maximising short-term gain at the expense of long-term wealth creation and social benefit. From the sharing economy to the internet of things, how can businesses disrupt rather than be the disrupted? How should businesses respond to systemic and emerging threats to their strategy and operations?
Sebastian Buckup is director and deputy head of programme development team at the World Economic Forum (@wef).
Independent Newspapers will be represented at Davos by Ellis Mnyandu ( @Ellis_Mnyandu), Business Report editor and group executive: Independent Business Media, and by Karima Brown ( @KarimaBrown), Independent Media’s chief content officer. Follow our Davos coverage via Twitter @busrep and online at www.busrep.co.za