In Tianjin this month the World Economic Forum convened more than 1,900 of the world’s leaders in business, research and governance at the eighth Annual Meeting of the New Champions. They gathered from more than 90 countries to focus on the goal expressed in the meeting theme, Creating Value through Innovation.
Ideas are the raw material of progress, and this New Champions meeting was all about ideas. In fact, the meeting is the world’s biggest event focused on innovation. China is in many ways a natural home for this meeting, as it is now moving to the forefront of innovation in many sectors.
At the three-day meeting (10-12 September) participants from the private, public, academic and civil society sectors were able to brainstorm with members of the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Councils, a unique community of thought leaders. There are 86 Councils, each focused on a pressing global issue or opportunity.
Like the New Champions, the Global Agenda Councils go beyond talk alone. A critical mass of influential and well-connected people can transform ideas into action, generating campaigns and programmes that inform the global agenda and contribute to the Forum’s mission of improving the state of the world.
Several dozen of China’s top thinkers and decision-makers participated in the Tianjin meeting, reflecting the growing stature of China on virtually every global stage. As Chinese influence expands, the role of Chinese thinkers and doers within the World Economic Forum will reflect that development.
China’s brainpower, as much as its industrial prowess, has an enormous amount to offer in the effort to improve the state of the world. Consider science and technology, a sector in which innovation is both the norm and the principal product. China’s share of worldwide scientific and engineering research and development is growing rapidly, according to recent figures compiled by the US-based Battelle Memorial Institute. As a percentage of gross domestic product, Chinese R&D spending is now second in the world.
While the US has a wide lead by this measure, Chinese official policy and the country’s economic growth are combining to narrow the gap, and will propel China ahead of the US in total dollar spending on R&D by about 2022, Battelle predicted recently. Tianjin’s vast port will emphasize for participants in the New Champions meeting that China has become a principal pillar of the global economy.
It’s not only Tianjin’s port that stands as a metaphor for China in the modern world. The city administration cites a population of 10.43 million. In all, more than 700 million people live in China’s cities and that figure will surpass 1 billion before 2030, McKinsey Global Institute predicted in 2009. The whole world is urbanizing rapidly; as a pace-setter in the growth of cities, China will have vital learning to share.
The incomprehensible potential of such a vast population certainly brings many challenges. Increasingly, China’s leaders and citizens are coming to grips with air and water pollution and many other environmental problems, and striving to produce more energy cleanly and to use it efficiently. In this field, too, the world waits to learn, from China’s successes and setbacks alike.
Issues of economics, climate change, justice, peace and governance are all more global than ever before; today all the Earth’s people are stakeholders in decision-making. China is “living in the future”: other countries and regions will face tomorrow the problems and opportunities that China is working to manage today.
Plainly, communication among all the world’s leaders and thinkers must be nurtured and increased if we are to develop comprehensive, long-term approaches to the problems that afflict or threaten us all. By welcoming and encouraging contributions from thought leaders across the world, the World Economic Forum serves to accelerate that process.
We all look forward to hearing about the outcomes from this year’s meeting of the New Champions to understand how we can all contribute to this vital task.
Martina Larkin is head of the World Economic Forum’s Network of Global Agenda Councils. The 2014-2016 Global Agenda Councils, 86 groups of experts, each focused on a pressing global issue, an industry, or a region, will begin work the week of 15 September.
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