What Is the World Economic Forum? (WEF)

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, that brings together its membership of political and business leaders each year to discuss major issues that impact the global economy. These include but are not limited to political, economic, social, and environmental concerns.

The WEF is best known for its annual World Economic Forum Meeting at Davos, the Swiss ski resort. The event regularly draws business and political leaders from around the world for a series of discussions about global issues. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted a half-century routine for this event, which may be restored sometime in the first half of 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Geneva-based international organization that works towards global cooperation on the major economic and social issues of the day.
  • It is best known for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together business and political leaders and thinkers for discussion of global issues and solutions.
  • The environment and related issues such as biodiversity destruction and human-made disasters dominate the WEF's current list of most pressing global concerns.
  • The WEF has no independent decision-making power but seeks to influence powerful people to make decisions that benefit the global community.
  • The organization is funded through its own membership, which includes many prominent business and political figures.

Understanding the World Economic Forum (WEF)

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) membership is a cross-section of the global elite from the private and public sector and includes some of the most prominent CEOs, diplomats, celebrities, media personalities, government officials, religious leaders, and union representatives from around the world.

Founded in 1971 in Geneva, the WEF has a mission based on what is known as stakeholder theory. Stakeholder theory proposes that while a private sector entity’s aim is to increase profits for its shareholders, it is incumbent upon the organization to view the rest of society as having a stake in the company’s actions. Stakeholders such as employees, customers the company serves, and the local and global community are to be considered in making key decisions.

Headquartered in Switzerland, the WEF has offices in New York, Beijing, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Mumbai. 

The COVID-19 pandemic forced some changes to the annual WEF meetings, which have become something of a media sensation in recent years.

The January 2021 meeting brought together 1,700 people, but only virtually. Not surprisingly, much of the year's discussion centered on the pandemic, with a focus on the fragility of the global supply chain that the pandemic revealed.

An in-person annual meeting that had been planned for August 2021 in Singapore under the theme of "The Great Reset" was canceled. As of this writing, a meeting in the first half of 2022 is being planned at a location to be determined.

World Economic Forum (WEF) Activities

The WEF is funded by its own membership, which includes industry leaders as well as individuals from all walks of life, including celebrities, journalists, and interested individuals willing to pay annual dues and meeting fees to attend. Regional meetings are held in developing nations in Africa, East Asia, and Latin America, but the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is the central meeting event for all members.

WEF meetings introduce new issues, trends, and organizations to members and the public for discussion, and are believed to influence corporate and public sector decision making.

The WEF organization has a number of ongoing projects aimed at addressing specific global concerns including climate change, health care, and urban development. It works with its global partners to bring about positive change in each of these areas.

The WEF also produces research into areas of interest to its members and helps to guide public-private sector collaboration and communication among its membership.

The last in-person World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, in 2019, featured teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg, who declared "I don't want your hope. I want you to panic... And act."

Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos

The WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, usually attracts about 2,500 people from more than 100 nations. The Davos meeting is covered by the world press. Past Davos meetings have allowed government leaders to address issues of political conflict with one another, raising the stature of the yearly meeting to that of a political as well as an economic forum.

The idea that the Forum could assist with global conflict resolution in addition to promoting its own best practices in business management was an early vision of WEF founder Klaus Schwab. Schwab, a German engineer and economist, now serves as the executive chair of the WEF.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Great Reset

A major theme in recent WEF publications and events is the concept that the global economic, political, and social order must go through a "Great Reset" in the face of technological progress, environmental concerns, and the economic destruction resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. These dialogues, meetings, and themes are in part based on Klaus Schwab's 2020 book: COVID-19: The Great Reset.

The Great Reset includes a wide range of suggested reforms linked to economic, societal, geopolitical, environmental, and technological concerns. The reset calls for massive redistribution of wealth and the reduction of competition, creative destruction, and economic growth in favor of collective goals, government control, and social welfare.

The agenda emphasizes various social justice themes in its advocacy for structural reforms and redistribution.

Not surprisingly, the Great Reset has generated significant controversy as the implications of the agenda have become public. There has been general opposition among those who favor free enterprise and oppose radical reconstruction of society. There also have been several apparent gaffes that led to the deletion or re-editing of some WEF publications and social media posts.

Critics have argued that WEF statements suggest that under the Great Reset people will own nothing and have no privacy. It has even been alleged that it portrayed the economic devastation inflicted on urban economies by the COVID-19 as a positive improvement.

What Is the Purpose of the World Economic Forum?

The World Economic Forum has no power to make decisions but it may have considerable power to influence political and business policy decisions.

The purpose of its annual meeting is to bring the world's most powerful decision-makers together on a regular basis to discuss the pressing problems of the day and consider how best to address them.
The WEF organization has a number of ambitious programs aimed at specific issues such as climate change, health care, and urban development. It works with its global partners to bring about positive change in each of these areas.

What Is the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Called?

The World Economic Forum Annual Meeting is the formal name but "at Davos" is often attached because of its connection with that Swiss ski resort.

The meeting has been held at Davos throughout the organization's 50-year history. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the schedule, leading to one virtual meeting and an abortive attempt to hold a second meeting in Singapore. The location of a planned 2022 annual meeting sometime in the first half of 2022 has not been announced.

What Is the Biggest Risk Facing the World According to the World Economic Forum?

The environment dominates the most recent list of global risks identified by the World Economic Forum.

Extreme weather, failure to act on climate change, natural disasters, biodiversity losses, and human-made environmental disasters all are deemed at a high likelihood of occurring during the next 10 years.

Data fraud or theft, global governance failures, and asset bubbles also are on the list.

What Is the WEF Great Reset?

The Great Reset is the name coined by the World Economic Forum for its proposal for wide-ranging reform. extending across economic, societal, geopolitical, environmental, and technological concerns.

The proposal focuses on the central issue of global inequities in wealth, health, and resources. It suggests a global redistribution of wealth, achieved through cooperation among the wealthier nations.

It must be noted that The Great Reset is a topic for discussion among World Forum members and has no political force.

Who Are the Members of WEF?

The World Economic Forum does not publish a members' list. The organization says its members are "mid-sized global enterprises" that have been approached by the Forum because of their "innovative business models, market influence, industry disruption, regional impact, corporate citizenship, and visionary leadership."

There are currently about 390 member companies in 40 countries.