The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting ended today with a Co-Chairs debate on the Global Agenda 2015. The session closed a week-long meeting on the world’s most pressing issues and long-term challenges, including inequality, climate change and terrorism.

“To reduce inequality, the best answer is growth,” Roberto Egydio Setubal, Chief Executive Officer and Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors, Itaú Unibanco, Brazil; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015, said. Setubal said the world had had a tough few years, but “now we are more optimistic, because the US economy is coming back. We will see better results in the next five years than we saw in the last five.”

Jim Yong Kim, President, The World Bank, Washington DC; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015, said: “We have to increase the impact that global growth has on the poorest.” Kim said improving healthcare and the quality of education are proven both to reduce inequality and foster sustainable growth.

Katherine Garrett-Cox, Chief Executive Officer, Alliance Trust, United Kingdom; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015, said this year is going to be the ultimate test “to see if public-private partnerships really work”. However, she sees reasons for hope. “What I am taking from this meeting is a huge sense of urgency, especially from the business community.”

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director, Oxfam International, United Kingdom; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2015, said: “Growth must touch everybody and lift everybody if it is to be sustainable.” She said that at the meeting she had met many business leaders ready to commit to reducing inequality and to mitigating the impact of climate change but that political leaders are falling behind.

Robin Niblett, Director, Chatham House, United Kingdom, said: “Governments are being delegitimized in many parts of the world. They are struggling to keep up.” However, he also sees promising signs for 2015, including the European Central Bank’s adoption of quantitative easing and the boom in alternative energies, which low oil prices will not stop.

Other highlights of the week include:

Li Keqiang, Premier of the People’s Republic of China, was the first to tackle the inequality issue head on, on Wednesday 21 January. “We need to ensure a relatively high employment rate, especially sufficient employment for young people. And we need to optimize income distribution and raise people’s welfare,” he said, outlining the “new normal” growth in China.

Climate change was top of the agenda, following an invitation by the French government to galvanize public-private support for the 2015 UN climate change conference in Paris later this year. Al Gore, Chairman and Co-Founder, Generation Investment Management, and Pharrell Williams, Creative Director and Brand Ambassador, Bionic Yarn, answered the call immediately, announcing their Live Earth series of concerts. “We are literally going to unite humanity all at once,” Williams said.

Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General; Christine Lagarde, Managing Director, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and Jim Yong Kim, President, The World Bank, also supported the plea. “It’s a collective endeavour, it’s a collective accountability and it may not be too late,” Lagarde said.

Matteo Renzi, Prime Minister of Italy, talked about how to reignite Europe’s growth engine. “The European direction must stress the importance of growth and public and private investment, not only austerity,” he said. Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of Germany, said on Thursday that “so-called austerity is often pitted against so-called growth” and that “we need a growth-oriented, sound fiscal policy, we need investments by the state, and we need an environment which encourages private investors to take out investments.”

As the European Central Bank prepared to announce its quantitative easing programme, Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot University Professor, Harvard University, said that “deflation and secular stagnation are the risks of our time”, while Gary Cohn, President and Chief Operating Officer, Goldman Sachs, told participants the world is in a “currency war”. He said: “One of the easier ways to stimulate your economy is to weaken your currency.”

On Friday, François Hollande, President of France, put terrorism on the agenda. “There cannot be prosperity without security,” he said. He urged the private sector to play a role as there needs to be a global international response. “It needs to be international and it needs to be shared, also by business, particularly the largest corporations,” he said. John Kerry, US Secretary of State, said: “Eliminating the terrorists that confront us today actually only solves part of the problem. We have to do more to avoid an endless cycle of violent extremism. We have to transform the very environment from which these forces emerge.”

Technology stakeholders discussed the future of the internet. Satya Nadella, Chief Executive Officer, Microsoft, focused on internet security and transparency. “We’ve got to get this balance between privacy and legitimate public safety. The internet is one of the greatest global goods. If we destroy it, we destroy a lot of our economic future.” Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer, Facebook, said that increasing access should be key. “If we can extend the internet to more people, we increase economic opportunities and equality,” she said.

The Forum gained formal status under the Swiss Host State Act, confirming its role as an international institution for public-private cooperation. “Through this recognition, Switzerland has shown not only its full support for the World Economic Forum’s mission but also its commitment to further enhance Geneva’s role as a centre for international cooperation,” Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, said. Simonetta Sommaruga, President of the Swiss Confederation, and her entire cabinet, were in Davos for the meeting.

The meeting created momentum for the Forum’s regional agendas, thanks to strong representation from governments and business leaders from emerging markets, including Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey and South Africa, in addition to those from Brazil, Russia, India and China.

  • African leaders, including Alpha Condé, President of Guinea, and Jacob Zuma, President of South Africa, gathered to discuss the Forum’s Africa Strategic Infrastructure Initiative.
  • Mexican stakeholders worked to advance and sustain the country’s long-term growth reforms.
  • The cabinets of Brazil, Russia and India were all represented by senior ministers, including Joaquim Levy, Minister of Finance of Brazil; Igor Shuvalov, First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation; and Arun Jaitley, Minister of Finance of India.

A number of key stakeholders from Libya, Syria and Ukraine gathered for informal talks. Topics included the mitigation of the impact of the Syrian conflict on its population and the reversal of the emergency situation in Libya. This was part of the Forum’s long-standing commitment to improve the state of the world, which also includes ongoing engagement on Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Against the background of ongoing conflict, the Forum also convened an expanded meeting of business leaders from Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Europe and the United States as part of its ongoing Geneva-Ukraine Initiative. At the meeting, all participants reaffirmed their commitment to a common approach, despite the very tense circumstances, to help resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia. This common approach, formulated in September 2014, can be summarized in ten proposals here.

The Shaping Davos initiative brought together Global Shapers from around the world. Over the course of 16 live sessions, 40 cities connected to the meeting in Davos. These included Gaza, Juba, Erbil, Paramaribo and San Salvador. The spirit of Davos was present in all these cities as Global Shapers hosted local conversations on the meeting’s topics.

The Forum launched a new Global Challenge Initiative on Food Security and Agriculture, with support from the Government of Canada and a broad network of stakeholders. The initiative will work to achieve sustainable and inclusive food systems through investment, innovation and collaboration.

The Forum also presented its Transformation Maps, and urged participants to travel around Davos on foot, with its Walk for Education project, resulting in a donation of 2,500 bicycles to children in rural South Africa.

In the run-up to and during the meeting, the Forum launched the following reports:

Finally, the Forum launched its Benchmarking and Inclusive Growth and Development white paper, presented the Global Strategic Foresight Community, and gave an update on the circular economy.

Author: Fon Mathuros is Senior Director, Head of Media at the World Economic Forum.

Image: Co-Chairs of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in The Global Agenda 2015 WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM/Remy Steinegger