Opinions - 26.01.2018 - 00:00 

WEF 2018 – Marketplace for encounters, ideas and solutions

A World Economic Forum of superlatives: heads of state and government, security measures and future issues. University of St.Gallen President Thomas Bieger on this year’s forum and the conference topic "Creating a shared future in a fractured world".

26 January 2018. A record number of heads of state and government, including six of the G7. More snow than we’ve seen in a long time. And with the visit of President Trump – who wandered through the congress centre in a good mood – an unprecedented level of security. Presidents and government leaders warned of the dangers of cybercrime, terrorism and global warming. They want to seize the opportunities of rapid technological development for their countries, to ensure that the whole population benefits from technological progress and that no one is left behind by development. And, true to this year’s congress theme "Creating a shared future in a fractured world", they warned against protectionism and emphasised the need for international coordination, for example with regard to data protection. This is the part of the WEF that the public gets to see.

Meeting place

In fact, there are at least four other levels that a Davos attendee experiences every day, from the first breakfast meeting to the third evening event. The first level at the WEF is the personal level, which provides an opportunity for many encounters. One can build relationships and trust; in the case of a university, for example, for programme initiatives and exchange contracts. Random encounters are also exciting, such as the one at the train ticket machine with a 25-year-old Chinese token entrepreneur; he had launched his company on the stock market eight days ago – and wanted to start his first satellite within nine.

Global University Leaders Forum (GULF)

A second level involves the working sessions of one’s own "community", for example the group of rectors from the world’s leading research universities (Global University Leaders Forum). In line with this year’s theme, strategies and experiences were shared as to how universities can become more inclusive and increase their benefit to society. The talk in today’s knowledge society, for example, is about securing access to education and training for all.

Impact of digitisation

The seminars and workshops comprise the third level; this year, they were mainly concerned with the impact of rapid technological change on society. The fourth industrial revolution will also change people. For the first time, we are asking ourselves whether machines could overtake us in the basic capacity that makes us human: namely, the ability to think. It seems clear that machines can learn, but emotions and creativity will remain the domain of human beings. On the positive side, "artificial intelligence" relieves people of exhausting and boring work; on the negative side, this threatens jobs. It was pointed out that every technological boost has created new jobs in previously unknown areas. However, harnessing the opportunities of technological change requires education, research, innovation and entrepreneurship – in addition to intelligent regulation. This no longer just means prohibitions or requirements designed to control behaviour, but results-driven "policies" and protocols.

All-time high with risks

And finally, the fourth level at the WEF is the economic outlook. The global economy is currently experiencing one of its longest periods of growth. But still-existing mountains of debt and the massive expansion of the money supply by the central banks, with its resulting all-time high in the stock and real estate markets, carry risks that could quickly lead to a collapse. There was an air of controversy surrounding this in the podium discussions surrounding economic and economic policy. All this made the 2018 Davos Forum an inspiring marketplace for personal exchange, discussion of new ideas and development of possible solutions.

photo: Fotolia / gmcphotopress

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