As the World Economic Forum is getting off the ground in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos this week, much will be the same as in previous years, including, reports say, the “usual itinerary of glittering Champagne receptions and marquee-name panelists.”
And that marquee is pretty crowded. Bill Gates will be speaking about financial innovation and global health, Prince William and Sir David Attenborough will discuss mental health, Al Gore will address how to save the planet and Uber Chief Dara Khosrowshahi will be talking about how capitalism can be reshaped to promote inclusive prosperity.
But for all that will remain the same in Davos, 2019 will also be a somewhat different year as well, as attitudes and interests are shifting inside the WEF — and in the world at large around it when it comes to topics like innovation, the future and who consumers and citizens trust to deliver for them going forward.
A Different Feel in the Forum
Though the age of the average Davos attendee is about where it usually is historically speaking, the planning and leadership team behind the 2019 forum is a bit younger. Six young leaders — Basima Abdulrahman, Juan David Aristizabal, Noura Berrouba, Julia Luscombe, Mohammed Hassan Mohamud and Akira Sakano — all millennials, joined Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella as co-chairs for planning the event and shaping the discussions that will happen over the next week.
The U.S., due to the U.S. government shutdown, will be less of a presence this year — as President Trump isn’t attending and also pulled the government delegation from attending. Despite the lack of official participation from U.S. government officials, the American contingent is expected to be the largest by a considerable margin. President Trump will not be the only major world leader sitting out Davos this year; U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May will also be staying home, citing Brexit woes as her reason.
The topic of the year will be Globalization 4.0, meaning that if the U.S. president is not there in body, he will certainly be the subject of several conversations — particularly in light of ongoing trade disputes between the U.S. government and China (among others).
Environmental concerns will also be a top topic of conversation at the forum this year, as 2019 markets the the third year that extreme weather events topped WEF’s annual global risk survey, followed by the related challenges of failed climate change mitigation and natural catastrophes. Technological risks are also keeping business and world leaders up at night, namely cyber attacks and data fraud or theft.
But perhaps more interesting than the changing ideas inside the forum are the ways consumers and citizens are thinking differently, and in some cases darkly, about the world outside the forum on the eve of Davos 2019.
Changing Citizen Attitudes
According to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer, which is released annually as the conference launches, only one in five people believe the economic, political and social system is working for them. Meanwhile about 60 percent think trade conflicts are hurting their companies and putting their jobs at risk.
Among groups surveyed, the Japanese are the most pessimistic where 84 percent of the general public do not believe they will be better off in five years’ time. The average was a pessimism rate of around 49 percent among the 27 countries examined in the research.
It further seems that people are not all that sure their elected officials are up to the task of helping. About 75 percent of people said they trusted their employer, while 48 percent reported they trust their government (a bit better than the media, which only got a 47 percent trust rating from the general public).
“CEOs now have to be visible, show personal commitment, absolutely step into the void, because we’ve got a leadership void in the world,” Richard Edelman, head of the communications marketing firm that commissioned the research, told Reuters.
Optimism was higher in the United States, where nearly half of the general public believed they would be better off in the next five years.