By Martina Gmür, Director, Head of the Network of Global Agenda Councils at the World Economic Forum

Today marks the release of the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2011, a publication of our Network of Global Agenda Councils. The report incorporates the results of the annual Survey on the Global Agenda completed by the world’s foremost experts, and summarizes the outcomes from the discussions at the third Summit on the Global Agenda, where we gathered more than 600 multidisciplinary thought leaders from 60 countries for the world’s largest brainstorm to discuss the most relevant issues on the global, regional and industry agendas.

The report paints a picture of a changing global landscape, one which is characterized by increased fragility and fragmentation, driven by significant shifts in geo- and eco-political realities, and challenged by the need to provide quality of life for close to a population of 6.8 billion people and rising.

Specifically, our Global Agenda Council Members identified four trends that will drive global affairs and that must be addressed over the next 12-18 months:

  • Global Power Shifts: Economic and political power is more spread out and emerging markets have become centres of growth and political decision-making.
  • Economic uncertainty: The high degree of volatility and ambiguity across markets will likely lead to irrational investor behaviour, creating the potential for currency wars, fiscal crisis and persistent global imbalances.
  • Resource scarcity: With the population set to top 7 billion, the resource strain threatens to undercut growth, create environmental problems and cause social and political conflict.
  • Institutional weakness: Institutions that were fragile before the 2008 crisis have become even more so in the face of global instability – as a result, the world is not in a state to withstand further shocks.

In addition, the global experts rank “growing income disparities” and “increase in demand for resources” as the most important issues that have not been given enough attention globally. “Increased concern for corporate social responsibility” and “globalization” were identified as the most overestimated trends, meaning that the global community has lent too much importance to these issues and not enough to others.

The report also highlights weak signals, issues or trends only identified by a small number of respondents, but that could well emerge as significant challenges. Weak signals identified in the report include the increased access to communication and social media tools across vast numbers of people, “shifting the power balance from the top to the bottom, a huge catalytic trend altering the landscape for leaders, which they do not currently understand”. Other weak signals include the emergence of non-state actors, state capitalism and the lack of global leadership.

Do you agree with our Global Agenda Council Members? What top trends do you think must be addressed over the next 12-18 months?

Read an interactive version of the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2011
Read the Outlook on the Global Agenda 2011 on Scribd

The World Economic Forum created the Network of Global Agenda Councils in 2008. The Councils are charged with monitoring key trends and risks, mapping interrelationships, addressing knowledge gaps and developing recommendations to address key challenges. They serve as a global brains trust to the World Economic Forum and contribute to the Risk Response Network (RRN), which aims to bring a new approach to addressing the complexity of risks that leaders face and enable them to capture the upside of those risks.