Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

How messages of hope, diversity and representation are being used to inspire changemakers to act

Diversity and representation; Xiye Bastida, Founder, Re-Earth Initiative, USA, Maria Susana Muhamad, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia, David Obura, Director, Coastal Oceans Research and Development in the Indian Ocean (CORDIO) East Africa, Kenya, Ursula Schneider Schüttel, President, Pro Natura - Friends of the Earth, Switzerland, Sabrina Soussan, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, SUEZ, France, Deep Saini, President and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University, Canada, speaking in the Open Forum: Sustaining Life on Earth session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 17 January,  2024.

Diversity and representation are key to promoting trust in science. Image: World Economic Forum/Boris Baldinger

Miranda Barker
Project Specialist, Innovation Ecosystems - UpLink, World Economic Forum
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Davos Agenda

This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting
  • The Open Forum, a series of sessions held annually as part of Davos 2024, the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, aims to encourage broad audience participation in discussions led by activists, artists, academics, public sector and business leaders from all over the world.
  • This year, panellists talked about the need for hope while audience members welcomed the diverse voices and the chance to participate in discussions on topics like climate change and gender equality in medicine.
  • Encouraging more diversity and representation in fields like science will help promote broader discussions of critical issues like the environment.

In the current era of rampant misinformation, scepticism and fearmongering, science has found itself at the centre of a storm of doubt. The very foundations of evidence-based truths, once taken as fact, now face challenges to their credibility.

The Open Forum was created more than 20 years ago. Before social media and livestreaming, it aimed to bring conversations from Davos to the wider public. Although most Annual Meeting sessions are now livestreamed, the Open Forum remains a place for the public to interact with panellists from around the world. The aim is for these conversations to continue after the Annual Meeting season, inspiring people (especially younger audience members) to become more involved in changemaking.

In 2024, Open Forum sessions explored important topics – from climate science to cybersecurity, ageing and gender equality in medicine – through a scientific lens. The event sessions are all available to view online. The idea of the theme is to raise awareness of the need to restore trust in science under the theme From Lab to Life: Science in Action.

Messages of hope

Hope was the key message running throughout the Open Forum 2024 sessions. Panellists agreed that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and disenfranchised given the wide range of global issues we currently face – from conflict to climate crisis and the rising cost of living. But they also reminded the audience that any action, no matter how small, can create change – losing hope only prevents positive impacts from happening. Meanwhile, we all should recognize and sympathize with why people might feel pessimistic or discouraged about the future – especially young people.

In one Open Forum session, primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall told the audience about the challenges of growing up in post-war Britain. She said it prepared her for life, making her more resilient and helping her hope for a better future, which carries her through tough times. And while she also acknowledged an epidemic of misery and pessimism about the future, especially among younger people, she reminded us that optimism is essential to doing good and making an impact.

Fareed Zakaria, Host, CNN, USA, Jane Goodall, Founder, Jane Goodall Institute; United Nations, Messenger of Peace, USA, speaking in the Open Forum: Speaking Truth to Power session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, 17 January. Open Forum – Swiss Alpine High School. Copyright: World Economic Forum/Sandra Blaser
CNN's Fareed Zakaria interviews primatologist Jane Goodall in front of an audience during an Open Forum session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2024 in Switzerland. Image: World Economic Forum/Sandra Blaser

Similarly, during the Take a Deep Breath with Technology session, artist and activist Benjamin Von Wong reminded the audience to be gentler on themselves. He suggested taking time to think about how to make impactful changes in the world, especially for the climate. “If everyone just felt enough hope about what was possible, that the future is bright, then they would get engaged,” he explained.

Indigenous activist Xiye Bastida repeated similar sentiments about hope and forgiveness. She told the audience that taking breaks from her climate advocacy work helps her prevent burn out, which would stop her from achieving her goals. The audience clearly related to her comments. In fact, some high school students in attendance remarked on the positive experience of seeing her take the stage as someone who, like them, is young and dedicated to climate issues.

Hope for a better future is essential to solving global challenges such as climate change. But action is also needed – even small changes at an individual level can help. Global issues will affect people in different ways and to varying degrees, but everyone will be affected by the climate crisis to some extent. In the session On Thin Ice, which covered the collapse of the summer sea ice in the Arctic and the ripple effects it will have, Swiss-based scientist Ruzica Dadic said: “10 years ago we started to notice less snow on the mountains when skiing. Now, each year it’s less and less, and that scares me.”


Diversity and representation: restoring trust in science

The Open Forum encouraged participation by minorities from across the globe to discuss topics from all angles. Out of 11 panels, nine included a youth voice, and of the 55 speakers across these panels, 33 were women. While seven of the sessions included Swiss voices to reflect the Annual Meeting’s host country, the Open Forum also included representatives from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and South America.

Diversity and representation are essential to restore trust in science through inclusion. Messages of optimism are also essential during times of global crises. By bringing diverse voices in the field of science to the centre stage, the Open Forum provides a platform to highlight these voices and inspire audiences. By bringing together academics, CEOs, activists, artists, public sector representatives and other changemakers, from all kinds of backgrounds, it encourages critical conversations and ensures rounded and inclusive discussions.

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An interactive audience Q&A at the end of every session also lets the audience participate. Speakers kept the conversations interactive as well. For example, clean-tech founder Peter BenHur Nyeko taught the audience a saying in Luo (a language that originates from East Africa) that means “it’s impossible until you’ve done it” to show the importance of hope and believing in your abilities.

Science is multidisciplinary and complex, but hope and inclusion can help fight mistrust in the subject. Hearing from diverse voices means all sides are represented in scientific debates, creating a more rounded discussion. By fostering hope, inclusion and diverse perspectives, we can navigate the complexities of science, paving the way for transformative change in terms of both equality but also on challenges such as climate preservation.

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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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