On Wednesday, the World Economic Forum began its annual meeting in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland. Commonly called just “Davos” to those in the know, the convention has been a topic of intense debate since it’s founding in 1971. Those who support it believe it’s an opportunity for global leaders to come together and transform society. Conversely, detractors view it is a place for the world’s elite to hobnob and celebrate their riches. While the actual occurrence falls somewhere in between, public opinion about the current economic climate indicates that Davos should do something to transform its image. By including millennials in its new Global Shapers program, Davos is countering the misconception that only the aging, wealthy generation has a voice there.
Davos began as a place for European businessmen to stay current on U.S. business practices. Over time, however, the invitation list has expanded to politicians, scientists, and artists. In fact, panel sessions that were once limited to economics have since been broadened to include topics about social and environmental issues. It is true that many business leaders attend each year for the sole purpose of networking with other CEOs, but important political events have occurred as well. For example, the 1992 Davos was the first international meeting where Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk appeared together.
That being said, Davos has also become a place of more talk than action. New global events have started to rise up as competition, such as the Clinton Global Initiative and the TED talks. There are questions about whether Davos is becoming irrelevant and if attendance will start dropping in future years. The Young Global Leaders program, founded in 2005, has helped to counter these questions by bringing younger voices into the mix. Formerly known as the Global Leaders of Tomorrow, this group of under-40s added a new dimension to a typically older group of attendees.
This year’s organizers took this idea further by instating the Global Shapers program. Meant to engage a generation that “has the passion, dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit to shape the future,” the effort invites nominated individuals under 30 to attend Davos and participate in a variety of panels and side events. This demographic will become increasingly important in the years to come. Nearly half the world’s population is under the age of 25, with 70% of Africa’s population under 30. Meanwhile, age has been cited as one of the core causes behind last year’s series of revolutions in the Middle East. The Pew Research Center has also gathered data about the millennial generation in America. They are more ethnically and racially diverse than older adults, on track to be the most educated generation in American history, and are open to change. Davos is right to engage this age group. Many are interested in reforming corporations to do good, utilizing social media to promote action instead of just dialogue, and are eager to engage with the world around them.
In her blog on the Washington Post, one Global Shaper from the 2012 inaugural class describes a moment when representatives from Tel Aviv, the West Bank, and other Middle Eastern countries are grouped together to discuss regional issues; the session ends in tears and applause. People in their mid to late 20s may not yet have the power of a political leader or a multinational company’s CEO. Yet by recognizing that these individuals are eager to be vehicles of change, Davos is moving toward a model where its annual talks might actually have real-world impacts in the future.
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