Forward Agenda - April 2019

Flood water from Missouri River is seen in downtown Parkville, Missouri, U.S., March 23, 2019. Picture taken on March 23, 2019.   REUTERS/Karen Dillon - RC14143D4090

A historic snowy winter; record spring flooding in the US; a catastrophic cyclone in Mozambique. Water will continue to dominate headlines Image: REUTERS/Karen Dillon - RC14143D4090

Michael Hanley
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
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What are the biggest stories looming on the global agenda? Building on our Agenda Weekly email update, each month we look ahead at the events and trends that will have the most impact.


Water wars: What unites the US, the once-famously rainy UK, and big cities in Africa? They’re running out of water. The shortage is leading to more and more conflict. Even in countries at war, water-related issues kill more children than violence. Climate change is one of the main causes of this growing global water crisis.

  • What to do: Technological solutions exist; political will is often lacking. Better messaging for people to feel the risk can help. At present, a leading climate watchdog may even be underselling the risks. As individuals, we should note the hidden water in the products we consume, whether a cup of a coffee or a pair of jeans.
  • Forward Agenda: One YGL knows we are running dry.


Complexifying digitalization: It may be game over for gaming consoles, as an internet empire moves yet another application to the cloud. Facebook announced a pivot to privacy, yet it failed to stop the livestreaming of a gruesome terrorist attack. Regulators just hit Google with a $1.7 billion fine, while some politicians are calling to break up all the tech giants. As our lives transition ever more online, how to keep technology on humanity's side?

  • Governing the web: There are at least four competing visions for how to govern the internet. There’s even a good case that Europe has already passed the regulations we need, with analysts claiming the European model provides a model for the world. A new Forum white paper offers five ways to protect consumers online and increase trust in e-commerce.


Authority rising: The world is seeing Greater authoritarian aggression, offering an ideological challenge to liberal democracy. Democracies themselves may be turning more authoritarian. Faced with an aggressive neighbor with a GDP smaller than Italy, Western Europe appears unable to fend for itself. Europe’s economic giant is cutting defense spending.


The recession has arrived: Not in the US, China, or Western Europe, but in Turkey, after 18 years of growth. Investors appear newly confident in the country, but the downturn could still be long and painful. In the US, a popular recession indicator has flashed red for the first time since 2007, though some argue that this time is different. German data is also looking grim. To boost its economy, China is cutting taxes and expediting debt sales. All that may be well and good, but economics is systematically biased against forecasting accuracy.

  • Long-term prosperit:. Business cycles come and go, but the real challenge remains: growth models that deliver inclusive, sustained, and sustainable economic progress. One such model involves rethinking economic value, addressing market concentration, enhancing job creation, and reimagining social protection.


Hope amid conflict: The latest flare-up in the Middle East hasn’t yet entirely calmed down, but regional leaders are working to boost economic growth, turn the Middle East into a technology hub through local universities, and aggressively adopt solar power.


Finally, it feels redundant to say anything about Brexit, and impossible not to mention it.


Weak Signals

In this section, we identify the stories that haven’t made the headlines but are likely to shape the agenda next month and beyond. The Forum's Strategic Intelligence team applied its AI knowledge tools to the content being published by the world's top think tanks. Here are the articles and ideas that bridged the most topic areas.

1 March 2019

“Historically, society has relied on signatures to ensure authenticity. The Sumerians used signatures over 5000 years ago with intricate seals stamped in clay tablets to endorse their writings. Marks, stamps, and seals evolved into handwritten text as literacy became widespread, and references to signing documents appear throughout history. On the Internet, we rely on digital signatures… but digital signatures are not widely used to certify the authorship of e-mails, social media posts, images, videos, etc.”

18 March 2019

“Governments, companies and many others issue bonds to borrow money for projects. Issuing a bond was nothing new for the World Bank—it has been issuing bonds since 1947 to raise financing from the capital markets for its development projects. But the concept of a bond that is dedicated to a specific kind of project had not been tested before. The green bond turned out to be a history-making event that fundamentally changed the way investors, development experts, policymakers, and scientists work together.”

1 March 2019

“A sweeping report released by the National Academies last year found that sexual harassment takes a significant toll on women in academic science and medicine. In one survey conducted for the report, nearly half of female medical students said they had been harassed by faculty or staff. That report also made one thing clear: Current policies to stem sexual harassment in health care aren’t cutting it.”

20 March 2019

“First, education indeed transforms and secularizes (this is not a story about yet another supposed deficiency of education). But the college-educated don’t so much turn away from God and religion as they adapt an image of a “distant God” that is more abstract, cosmic, sexless, mysterious, and forgiving of human weakness (the less-educated stick to the older, reverse image). With more education, people tend to believe in a God that is, yes, supernatural and the creator of a moral code for life, but also with fewer qualities that present major cognitive contradictions in holding core scientific and secular ideas about society.”

20 March 2019

“One theory holds that this is because small societies do not need a supernatural policeman. If everyone knows everyone else, antisocial elements are easily managed. But as societies grow, and especially as they absorb ethnically and culturally diverse groups through conquest, a different policing mechanism is needed. What could be better than an all-seeing eye that enforces co-operation between friends and strangers alike?”

19 March 2019

“Gender-responsive budgeting is still in its infancy and there is relatively little evidence of what works. What constitutes ‘good gender budgeting’ remains highly contested outside of a community of gender budgeting specialists. Experiences in G7 countries suggest that many governments support gender equity without necessarily adopting extensive gender-responsive budgeting practices (e.g. Denmark, the perennial posterchild of good governance).”

7 March 2019

“China’s unicorns will need to grow differently in future. Many are expanding not in their usual bases of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, but in second-tier cities, including Wuhan, Chengdu and Xi’an, driven by a need to reduce operating costs. These inland cities are luring talented young Chinese and the startups they want to work for. They offer housing subsidies and relaxed rules on household registrations, a system that ties Chinese to where their family came from.”

18 March 2019

“Gender earnings differences arise in part because men and women possess different levels and types of education and skills and in part because labor markets value their schooling and skills unequally. Our study affirms that schooling, especially post-secondary schooling, and cognitive skills are important for increasing earnings for both men and women, but they are especially important for women.”

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