Global Cooperation

The World Economic Forum: A Swiss success story

The Forum’s activities extend beyond the Annual Meetings in Davos.

The Forum’s activities extend beyond the Annual Meetings in Davos. Image: Getty Images

Selina Hänni
Swiss Public Affairs Specialist, World Economic Forum
Micol Lucchi
Lead, Swiss Public Affairs, World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The Forum, despite its global nature, is deeply intertwined with the Swiss ethos of neutrality, collaboration and long-term vision.
  • The Forum embodies a unique institutional culture based on stakeholder theory, which holds that an organisation is accountable to all of society.
  • Contrary to misconceptions, the Annual Meeting does not dictate policy, but serves as a platform for dialogue.

Established in 1971 as a not-for-profit foundation headquartered in Geneva, the Forum has evolved into a global platform where leaders from diverse sectors address pressing challenges. In all its activities, the Forum seeks to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance.

How Swiss is the Forum, and what makes it a distinctive force in shaping the global agenda?

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A catalyst for public-private cooperation

Bringing together leaders from the political, business, cultural and social spheres, the Forum embodies a unique institutional culture based on stakeholder theory. This theory argues that an organisation is accountable to all parts of society, bringing together elements from the public and private sectors, international organisations, and academic institutions. The Forum's approach is global, holistic and forward-looking, focusing on long-term solutions and tackling the pressing issues of today and tomorrow.

Switzerland, often praised for its commitment to neutrality and International Geneva with its provision of a diplomatic platform, is an ideal host for the Forum. The organization is committed to improving the state of the world in ways that are objective, measurable and sustainable – it embraces Switzerland’s tradition of impartiality and serves as a space for objective dialogue and cooperation. The Forum is independent and not beholden to any particular interests.

Davos: more than Europe’s highest town

Nestled in the Swiss Alps, Davos is not only Europe’s highest city, it has also become synonymous with the Forum's Annual Meeting. Held in Davos since its inception, the Annual Meeting in Davos embodies an attitude of openness and cooperation, encapsulated in the “Davos Manifesto”. Created in 1973 and renewed in 2020, the Manifesto outlines the principles of stakeholder capitalism, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Agenda. The agenda of the Annual Meeting evolves each year, addressing global challenges ranging from climate change to pandemic preparedness and is designed to accelerate progress and address critical issues.

‘Spirit of Davos’

Contrary to misconceptions, the Annual Meeting does not dictate policy, but serves as a platform for dialogue that can lead to business partnerships and political breakthroughs.

Over the years, it has facilitated landmark agreements, such as averting armed conflict between Greece and Turkey in 1988, and helping to end apartheid in South Africa. The Forum’s Annual Meeting also served as a platform for the announcement of the UN Global Compact, an initiative that calls on companies to align their operations with human rights principles. At the Annual Meeting in 1990, a session on the “New Europe” took place, bringing together for the first time the heads of Western and Eastern European countries. The encounter between West German Federal Chancellor Helmut Kohl and the newly elected East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow at the 1990 Annual Meeting in Davos was decisive in determining German reunification.

The Annual Meeting embodies the ‘Spirit of Davos’ – an attitude of openness and cooperation at the heart of the Forum's mission. The Annual Meeting is an invitation-only event, based not on wealth or fame, but on expertise and influence for positive change. It brings together diverse voices, including the Forum’s partner businesses, politicians, civil society leaders, activists, artists and youth representatives. Other participants of the Annual Meeting include members of the communities such as the Global Innovators and Technology Pioneers community, the Community of Global Shapers, the Forum of Young Global Leaders, and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

The sessions can be followed online on the Forum’s website and on various social media platforms. Since 2003, the Forum hosts events and discussions that are open to the public, for free, upon registration, at the Open Forum Davos.

From Davos to global impact

The Forum’s activities extend beyond the Annual Meetings in Davos, as evidenced by pivotal events in its history:

  • 1998 – The concept of a global institution comprising developed and emerging economies was born in Davos, leading to the establishment of the G20.
  • 2000 – The launch of GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, has saved over 13 million lives, showcasing the Forum's commitment to global health.
  • 2024 – National Security Advisors Meeting: The Forum continues to be a platform for high-level discussions on national security in Ukraine, facilitating dialogue among key stakeholders.

The Forum promotes consensus and action on issues such as social inclusion and environmental protection through its Annual Meeting and beyond. Its commitment to long-term progress is evident in its recent achievements. For instance, there's the Reskilling Revolution – an initiative aiming to transform education, skills and learning to prepare a billion people for tomorrow’s economy and society. The Refugee Employment Alliance, another significant effort, is accelerating multistakeholder support for the economic integration of refugees globally. Additionally, the Forum spearheads the First Movers Coalition, a global coalition of companies leveraging their purchasing power to decarbonize the world’s heavy-emitting sectors, and it hosts the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which helps stakeholders harness the full potential of technological progress for the equitable and human-centred transformation of industries, economies and societies.

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Closer collaboration with Switzerland

The collaboration between Switzerland and the Forum is not merely symbolic; it is deeply rooted in tangible initiatives.

In 2015, a Host State Agreement was signed, acknowledging the Forum as an “international institution for public-private cooperation”.

The House of Switzerland, established in 2019, provides a platform for working meetings, thematic events and collaboration among political, business and scientific stakeholders during the Annual Meetings.

In 2020, the Forum celebrated its 50th anniversary, marking a milestone that saw the full Swiss Federal Council attending the Annual Meeting. In this occasion an Agreement was signed to deepen the collaboration around topics such as digitalization, food and water security, sustainable building culture, and the changing nature of work.

The World Economic Forum, is deeply intertwined with the Swiss ethos of neutrality, collaboration and long-term vision. As it continues to play a pivotal role in shaping the global agenda, the Forum exemplifies how Switzerland contributes to forging a better future for the world.

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

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