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Davos Agenda: What you need to know about geopolitics

A protester with the "Black Lives Matter" slogan printed on her face mask joins a protest against racial inequality and police violence in Portland, Oregon, U.S., July 26, 2020. REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs - RC2G1I9IX7R4

To build back from COVID-19, we need international cooperation, social justice and public-private partnership. Image: REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

Samantha Sault
Writer, Washington DC and Geneva
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Beyond Geopolitics

This article is part of: The Davos Agenda
  • The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the need for international cooperation.
  • To build back better and tackle the many health, economic, societal, environmental and technological challenges ahead, we need meaningful multilateral action, social justice and public-private partnership.
  • From 25-29 January, the Davos Agenda will virtually convene world leaders to discuss these geopolitical challenges.

Following the 2020 Annual Meeting in Davos, World Economic Forum President Børge Brende called for “another period of multilateral renewal” in order for the world to tackle the multitude of economic, environmental and technological risks ahead.

“The ability to act in concert and with purpose within a tumultuous global environment won’t be easy, but it will be necessary,” he said.

Within weeks, we would see more clearly just how true this was – with the COVID-19 coronavirus swiftly making its way around the globe, wreaking economic destruction and heightening geopolitical tensions.

From 25-29 January 2021, the Davos Agenda will virtually bring together global leaders to discuss how we seize this opportunity to build a more collaborative global framework for the post-COVID era.

Have you read?
  • How to follow The Davos Agenda

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragic reminder of how deeply connected we are. The virus knows no borders and is a quintessential global challenge. Combatting it requires us to work together as one human family,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on all economies and societies, we remain physically separated, with people staying in their homes, meetings and travel halted, deepening the divide.

COVID-19 Risks: Most likely fallout for the world
The COVID-19 risks with the most likely fallout for the world Image: World Economic Forum

However, “tragedy need not be its only legacy,” wrote Forum Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab.

“On the contrary, the pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future,” he said.

Where do we go from here?

Building back better and solving the many crises before us – the pandemic, the recession, climate change, cracks in our global institutions – requires international cooperation. Here are top priorities for reshaping the geopolitical landscape.

1. Strong and effective international institutions

“Through the spirit of international collaboration and co-operation, our global community has been able to eradicate smallpox, witness 2 billion people moving out of extreme poverty, reduce the prevalence of and mortality from HIV/AIDS, and contain the infectious disease outbreaks of SARS, H1N1, and Ebola. Our global community dug deep to navigate through the global financial crisis of more than a decade ago,” xplained according to an expert Agenda article commissioned by the Forum last spring.

As the UN Turns 75, People Believe In Its Positive Impact
As the UN turns 75, people believe in its positive impact Image: Statista

Now, however, “the rise in populism and ‘country first’ politics have threatened the spirit of international co-operation and the workings of the multilateral institutions,” which “left the international community at a significant disadvantage as it faced the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“Now is not the time for threats to, and abandonment of our global institutions, despite their flaws. We must rebuild them as part of strengthening our solidarity,” the authors argued.

Globalization is in retreat for the first time since the Second World War
Globalization is in retreat for the first time since WWII Image: Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE)

“Ultimately, globalization needs better management, and the failure to manage increased flows across national borders is what gave rise to the financial crisis, climate change and COVID-19,” according to the University of Oxford’s Ian Goldin and Robert Muggah of the The SecDev Group and Igarapé Institute, writing for Agenda.

“Turning our back on globalization is not the answer,” they continued. “Nor should we wish to bounce back to the pre-pandemic ways of doing things, as it is that type of business as usual that brought us the pandemic and much more dangerous threats such as climate change. It is unsustainable.”


What is the World Economic Forum doing on trade facilitation?

2. Equality and social justice

Even before the pandemic, inequality “was rising even in those countries that have experienced rapid growth,” said the Forum’s Klaus Schwab in the Global Social Mobility Index 2020.

The consequences are “profound and far-reaching: a growing sense of unfairness, precarity, perceived loss of identity and dignity, weakening social fabric, eroding trust in institutions, disenchantment with political processes, and an erosion of the social contract.”

Cumulative percent change in real annual wages, by wage group, 1979-2018
Inequality is on the rise. Image: World Economic Forum

“The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the challenges of social injustice by placing a spotlight on the shocking disparities in the degree of risk to which different social classes are exposed,” Schwab wrote in response to the protests over systemic racism.

Social injustice and racism are systemic even in the wealthiest nations like the United States, where the pandemic has had a disproportionately devastating impact on Black communities in particular.

The pandemic's racial disparity
The pandemic's racial disparity Image: Statista

“In America, as in many other countries, people who face racial discrimination and marginalization are more likely to be unemployed or underemployed and have poor housing and living conditions. As a result, their access to healthcare is more limited and they suffer more from pre-existing health conditions that make COVID-19 particularly deadly,” explained Schwab.

In the long term, the rebuilding our institutions for the post-COVID world must include “prioritizing the need to redefine our social contract” and address systemic injustice and racism, he argued.

More immediately, the response emergency measures to enhance social safety nets remain critically important, as well as equitable COVID-19 vaccine distribution to ensure no economies are left behind.

Forum Foundations Project Specialist Sarah Shakour offers specific actions to address systemic racism, including reparations, police reform, and diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace.

3. Public-private partnership

Ultimately, the post-COVID era “will demand private-sector engagement every step of the way,” wrote Schwab last June.

And we’ve seen that this is possible. “During the COVID-19 crisis, companies, universities, and others have joined forces to develop diagnostics, therapeutics, and possible vaccines; establish testing centers; create mechanisms for tracing infections; and deliver telemedicine,” he continued.


What is the World Economic Forum doing about access to vaccines?

The development and rollout of COVID-19 vaccines including Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech are shining examples of what can be achieved when the public and private sector work together towards a goal.

“Imagine what could be possible if similar concerted efforts were made in every sector,” added Schwab.

Public-private partnership will be essential to recovery from COVID-19, as well as addressing a host of multilateral challenges that lie ahead – from ensuring people receive the COVID-19 vaccines to preparing for the next pandemic, as well as tackling cybersecurity and climate change.

What to watch during Davos Agenda

From 25-29 January 2021, join us for special addresses from world leaders including:

  • President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, Monday 25 January 13:00-13:30
  • Secretary-General of the UN António Guterres, Monday 25 January 18:00-18:30
  • President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa, Tuesday 26 January 08:00-08:30
  • President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, Tuesday 26 January 11:00-11:30
  • Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, Tuesday 26 January 13:00-13:40
  • President of France Emmanuel Macron, Tuesday 26 January 15:00-15:30
  • President of South Korea Moon Jae-in, Wednesday 27 January 08:00-08:30
  • Prime Minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte, Wednesday 27 January 11:00-11:30
  • Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, Wednesday 27 January 15:00-15:30
  • King Abdullah II of Jordan, Thursday 28 January 11:00-11:30
  • Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, Thursday 28 January 13:00-13:45
  • President of Argentina Alberto Fernández, Thursday 28 January 18:30-19:00
  • Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Hsien Loong, Friday 29 January 08:30-09:00
  • Prime Minister of Japan Yoshihide Suga, Friday 29 January 11:00-11:30
  • Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau, Friday 29 January 13:00-13:30

You can watch the livestreamed sessions here.

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World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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