I recently visited the head office of the World Economic Forum in Geneva, Switzerland. It was a perfect bright and sunny day to visit the office nestled on a hill-top, overlooking the beautiful Lake Geneva. All along the tram ride from the commercial center to the WEF office, my mind raced with questions about the organization. WEF is generally known for the annual Davos summit, pictures of snow capped small resorts in a town bustling with leaders from across the world, and I was busy recalling all that I had seen and heard about it on television. By the end of the day, I got answers to all my questions and learnt quite a bit about the WEF and its work. In the following paragraphs, I will briefly describe what I now know of the World Economic Forum and its various initiatives:
The World Economic Forum (WEF) is the 3rd largest broker in the world after United Nations & World Bank. Founded in 1971 by Professor Klaus Schwab, the WEF aims to improve the state of the world through multi-stakeholder engagement. The approach they follow can be described as:
- Multi-stakeholder: WEF engages various stakeholders – Governments, Businesses and Civil Society to further its goals.
- Future Oriented: There is emphasis on engaging with Young Global Leaders, Global Shapers, Social Entrepreneurs and Technology Pioneers as a strategy to make an impact in the long term.
- Strategic Insight: The Forum has helped set up Councils and Networks to develop strategies to improve the state of the world, such as the Global Risk Response Network, the Global Benchmarking Network, the Global Agenda Councils and the Global University Leaders.
A widespread network of diverse communities helps WEF address issues on social, economic, political, environmental level by bringing people from different walks of life on a common platform to find real-time solutions to world problems. An excellent example of the same would be the ‘Breaking the Impasse Initiative’ held during the WEF forum on ‘Middle East & North Africa’ in May 2013 where over 300 business leaders from Israel and Palestine in the presence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas & Israeli President Shimon Peres appealed to their respective governments to renew ties with each other, thereby putting an end to the long-drawn conflict between the two nations.
WEF also actively engages in dialogues aimed at addressing issues like youth unemployment in the Arab world, gender inequality in India, the future of energy etc. by calling upon industry leaders at one table to discuss possible solutions.
Some of the other activities undertaken by the WEF, which is increasing its visibility across the world are:
- The Global Competitiveness Report– An annual report released by WEF measures the ability of a country to provide high levels of prosperity to its citizens, and incorporates over 110 different variables to arrive at the ‘attractiveness’ of a country as a place of residence and work.
- Regional events/Forums – WEF with help of its regional partners engages in constructive discussions with industry leaders, government officials, NGOs & community leaders to solve wide range of issues facing them. Some of these include:
* Helping Myanmar’s rural poor
* Safeguarding Syria
* Dialogue on the future of Mongolia
* Dialogue on the future of South Caucasus & Central Asia
- Global Agenda Councils– A network of over 1500 Thought Leaders from across the globe have been grouped into over 80 Councils. The WEF encourages dialogue, outlines agenda and catalyzes their activities. These focused groups address technological, economic, geo-political, social, environmental & regional issues to encourage brainstorming and provide innovative solutions.
In the context of education, which is the focus of the blog, World Economic Forum addresses a range of issues too. The forum has discussed issues such as:
- How businesses benefit from investing in education
- Providing quality education to rural areas in Latin America
- Need for increased investment for education of girls
- Need and importance of Early Childhood Education
- Educating the next wave of entrepreneurs
An article from the website of SOS Children’s Villages states that there are about 720 million adult illiterates in the world which is roughly 10 times the population of France. What’s more worrying is that almost 75% of them belong to 10 countries of the world – mainly Pakistan, China Indonesia & Brazil. Also, almost 40% of these adult illiterates are from India.
The Forum has dedicated one Agenda Council to Education & Skills with an objective to improve education levels across the world. Improved education leads to higher productivity & innovation, thus leading to job creation and hence, economic growth. A WEF report on Global Education Initiative can be accessed at http://tinyurl.com/pxrkgww
Such dialogues when combined with implementation strategies have far reaching affects. For instance, sharing best practices with organizations working at the ground level will enable resolution and facilitate change at a much faster rate. Over 60 projects including steps to tackle corruption, combating chronic diseases and improving environmental standards are currently being addressed by the WEF.
To conclude in the words of Klaus Schwab – “Collaborative efforts are needed in a multi-stakeholder community and they are the best way to achieve sustained economic development and social progress”.
There is a long way to go, but as long as steps are being taken in the right direction, we can hope to achieve the much-needed goals of – sustained and sustainable economic development as well as social progress.