What Is the World Economic Forum?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland that brings together its membership on a yearly basis to discuss major issues concerning the world political economy. These include but are not limited to issues of politics, economics, social, and environmental concerns.

Key Takeaways

  • The World Economic Forum is a Geneva-based international organization that discusses issues concerning the global political economy.
  • The organization is funded through its own membership, which includes industry leaders, politicians, thinkers, and academics, as well as celebrities and interested individuals.
  • Each year the World Economic Forum hold's its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, drawing important world leaders and thinkers.

Understanding the World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum’s membership features a cross section of representatives from the private and public sector, and includes some of the most prominent CEOs, ambassadors, public figures, media personnel, government officials, religious leaders and union representatives from around the world.

Founded in 1971 in Geneva, the current World Economic Forum has a mission based on what is known as stakeholder theory. Stakeholder theory offers a proposal that while a private sector entity’s role is to increase profits for its shareholders, it is contingent 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 World Economic Forum also has offices in New York, Beijing, and Tokyo, but in 2017 announced a new office in San Francisco. The most recent annual meeting in Davos was held in January of 2018, and its theme was titled Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.

Funding of the World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum is funded by its own membership, which includes industry leaders from companies with at least $5 billion in yearly turnover, 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 such as Africa, East Asia, and Latin America, but the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland is the central meeting event for all members.

World Economic Forum meetings serve the purpose of introducing new issues, trends, and organizations to members and to the public for discussion, and are believed to help evolve corporate and public sector agendas for future decision making.

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

Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos

The World Economic Forum annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland attracts about 2,500 people from over a hundred countries. The Davos meeting is generally covered by the world press whereby past Davos meetings have allowed government leaders from around the world 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. This was an early vision of Forum founder Klaus Schwab, a professor of business at the University of Geneva, whereby the Forum could assist with global conflict resolution in addition to promoting its own best practices in business management. Schwab now serves as the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

The Davos World Economic Forum brings together business leaders, investors, politicians and journalists from across the globe to discuss current global economic and social issues and is held in January in the small ski town. It is one of the best-known events of its sort. The forum is among the most popular, well-attended and high-profile events globally and focuses on shaping the global, regional and industry agendas.

Davos World Economic Forum 2018

Each year's Forum has a theme, and the theme of the most recent forum held in January 2018 was “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World.” The fractures referred to Brexit, the Trump presidency, the rise of automation and artificial intelligence (AI), and the re-emergence of China. These subjects were highly visible on the conference agenda. The 2018 Davos World Economic Forum had record attendance and was the 47th Forum since its inception.

Advancing technology, particularly AI, and the impact that automation will have on jobs was a prominent item of discussion. The discussions at Davos concluded that although some jobs will undoubtedly disappear over time, there will still be many jobs for humans in the future; the work will just be quite different.

In an optimistic forecast, one technology company that attended Davos estimated that approximately 20 million jobs will be created in the next decade as AI and automation are integrated with human skills in future technology advancements. Digital transformation of organizations was also encouraged to meet the growing digital environment. Despite the need for firms to embrace new digital technologies, the WEF found that only 7% of firms have done so, according to research by Forrester.