How should we deal with extremism? Why is global unemployment on the rise, even in fast-growing economies? Can we improve the global response to epidemics such as Ebola? What is the future of democracy?
Every year, the Open Forum in Davos seeks to tackle some of the world’s most complex issues through public dialogue. Originally conceived in 2003 as a way to engage with the public during the Annual Meeting, the Open Forum has since grown into a thriving, dynamic event of its own. Over the years we have welcomed students and activists, politicians and entrepreneurs, Occupy protesters and religious leaders in an effort to find constructive, collaborative solutions to the global problems that concern us all.
Rising to the global challenge
This year’s Open Forum, on 21-23 January, will be the first to live-stream contributions from all over the world for our first debate: Religion – A Pretext for Conflict? To create an even more inclusive platform, we have teamed up with the Global Shapers, the Forum’s network of exceptionally active and motivated young people.
Global Shapers from Toronto, Frankfurt, Amman and Erbil will be dialling in to share their own experiences of religion, conflict and identity. This innovation goes to the heart of what the Open Forum is trying to achieve. As always, our panels will feature leading experts on issues from religious freedom to social equality. But experts alone cannot solve today’s biggest challenges. We need to hear from people who live and struggle with these challenges every day.
The Toronto Shapers, for example, will be talking about overcoming religious differences from the perspective of one of the most multicultural cities in the world. Half of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada, and over 140 languages and dialects are spoken in the city. The Shapers in Amman and Erbil, on the other hand, will be speaking as people whose daily lives are affected by conflict. Jordan, with a population of only 6.5 million, is now home to more than 600,000 Syrian refugees, who are fleeing a brutal civil war with sectarian influences. Iraqi Kurdistan has been hit by another consequence of the Syrian conflict, with ISIS, the powerful jihadist army, attacking its cities. In this enormously difficult context, the Shapers have prepared contributions for the Open Forum, from why extremism exists to how we can promote religious tolerance.
As we have seen from the recent terrible events in Paris, where extremists attacked the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people, defending religious tolerance, freedom of speech and liberal values is as crucial in Europe as in the Middle East. This can only be achieved by politicians, business leaders and civil society working together.
The causes of conflict and extremism are also closely linked to the other topics on our agenda for the Open Forum, especially social and economic inclusion. Shared prosperity can act as a solid foundation for security and stability, while inequality can sow the seeds of discontent and unrest. Unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, is one of the most pressing issues in this regard. Over the past 40 years, the global percentage of people out of work has tripled, mostly due to automization. As technology makes more and more jobs redundant, how can we create new forms of employment? And how can we give young people more opportunities to grow, learn and shape their lives?
How you can participate
To find lasting solutions, we need to broaden our generational as well as our global reach. I see hope in the fact that one-third of the Open Forum’s participants are young people; their involvement has been steadily increasing. Many Swiss teachers now use the Open Forum to enhance their curriculum. They discuss the topics with pupils, then take them to Davos in January to join the debate.
In this spirit, we encourage you to visit the Open Forum or engage with us through our Twitter feed: @openforumdavos. In another step to connect our local and global communities, students of the Swiss Alpine School will be tweeting throughout our sessions. We want to hear your thoughts on a wide range of issues from immigration to social inclusion, from global health hazards to democracy.
The Open Forum does not claim to produce answers. But we can bring together different points of view and pave the way for honest, productive and open-minded dialogue. After all, there is no better starting point than dialogue for building a free, fair, diverse and peaceful world.
Author: Gilbert Probst is Dean, Leadership Office and Academic Affairs, and a member of the Management Committee at the World Economic Forum