“You could see history changing”: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2017


    At a time when the established global order looks shakier than ever, this year’s World Economic Forum annual meeting shaped as one of the most important in its near forty year history. The AICD’s Chief Economist Stephen Walters reports on the themes emerging from this year’s Davos meeting.

    World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 20176:29

    The Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) is pleased to report that we recently became members of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the prestigious and long-standing foundation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The AICD is one of only a small number of Australian members of the Forum, and is the only representative body to be granted membership, alongside four corporate members.

    Founded in 1971, the Forum is considered one of the world’s premier organisations for public-private cooperation. Its aim is to improve the state of the world by engaging the foremost political, business and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas.

    The Forum is best known for its annual gathering in Davos each January. AICD Chairman Elizabeth Proust attended the most recent invitation-only gathering in Switzerland, which featured appearances from China President Xi Jingping and the UK Prime Minister Theresa May, alongside other high profile speakers. Notably there was little representation from the new US administration, at least in part due to poor timing with the Davos event being held in the week of President Trump’s inauguration.

    “It was almost a time in which you could see history changing,” Elizabeth said of the high-profile speeches by the British and Chinese leaders.

    The issue of income inequality was a major point of debate in Davos. The gathering did not come up with all the solutions, but at least facilitated an informed debate. The implications of last year’s ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK and the new administration in the US were discussed at length, as was the significance of upcoming elections in Europe. The recent troubling creep back towards protectionism in world trade also was in focus.

    “For Europeans there was great anxiety about global trade, about NATO. There was a general anxiety about what an American retreat on trade and defence would mean for the world at large,” Elizabeth reported.

    We are aware that the Forum is not everyone’s cup of tea. The annual gathering of world leaders in the snow-covered mountains of Switzerland, for example, has been criticised as being elitist and detached. Davos provides, however, one of the few opportunities for business and political leaders to gather together in extended sessions to influence debate on the major policy issues of the day.

    The fact that the Forum is not all about Davos, though, should become apparent to members throughout this year. There are other Forum gatherings on the agenda, including some high-profile gatherings in Asia in which our members should have particularly interest. Moreover, the Forum engages in numerous surveys and research projects throughout the year - the AICD and our members now have the ability to participate like never before.

    On this, though, the AICD’s relationship with the Forum works both ways – we recently engaged with the Forum to give AICD members the option to respond the Global Risks survey. This engagement gave this globally-focussed survey of Forum members an Australian perspective for the first time. The results of this work will be made available around the time of the Australian Governance Summit in early March.

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