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WEF 2002
WEF 2003
WEF 2004

WEF 2002: Davos Comes to New York

For the past 31 years, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has adopted a "same time, same place" philosophy for its annual meeting. In 2002, however, in the wake of the events of September 11, it has switched the meeting from Davos, in Switzerland, to New York. The reasons, implications and the transformed agenda have been extensively discussed elsewhere, but SustainAbility has a particular interest in the outcome this time - because this is the first year we will be taking part.

We have been critical of WEF in the past. A couple of years back, for example, I wrote an article for Tomorrow explaining the challenge the World Economic Forum (WEF) faced, well before Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda broke into the headlines. Among the recommendations were that WEF should:

— Dig deeper into the ‘dark side’ of globalization, tempering missionary zeal with realism about progress.
— Shift to a more inclusive model, without sacrificing its world leader appeal – providing opportunities for civil society to have private conversations with leaders.
— Offer advice – even coaching – to political and business leaders to help them listen, learn and co-operate.
— Make greater use of participative techniques, including electronic voting.
— Experiment with the use of facilitators from the sustainability community.
— Help evolve and roll out concrete triple bottom line solutions.

Sometimes you get what you ask for – or at least some part of it. So this year, when the focus of the event has switched to outcome-oriented workshops, I have been asked to facilitate two CEO-level WEF workshops. One will explore what the business community should do in response to the anti-globalization movement. The second will address the question of how we can ensure durable outcomes from the Rio+10 process in general – and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in particular.

Much will depend on the overall trajectory of the next decade or two. Earlier in January, SustainAbility attended the launch event for Shell’s latest couplet of scenarios: BUSINESS CLASS and PRISM. The first envisages the world economy moving towards increased efficiency and prosperity, piloted by a global elite. The second a world in which the prospect of global integration dissolves in the face of strengthening local cultures, rules and consequent constraints. According to scenario planner Ged Davis, before September 11 there had been a bias towards BUSINESS CLASS, whereas now there is a bias towards PRISM – although companies like Shell must be prepared to operate effectively whichever (indeed whatever) scenario plays out.

One key factor determining which way we head will be the tack taken by the global media industry. The day before the WEF formally opens SustainAbility will launch its latest report at New York’s Center for Globalization and Sustainability. The report is the latest in our ‘Engaging Stakeholders’ series with the United Nations Programme (UNEP), this time in partnership with public relations and reputation management consultancy Ketchum.

Entitled Good News & Bad, the new report focuses on how the media have covered the corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainable development (SD) agendas in four world regions during the period 1991-2001.

1992 saw a big ‘spike’ in coverage of issues like ozone depletion, climate change and biodiversity, because of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Although the war against terrorism and the spectacular collapse of Enron suggest that 2002 will not be short of distractions from the CSR and SD agendas, we expect a similar spike this year.