World Economic Forum (WEF): Definition and History of Meeting

What Is the World Economic Forum? (WEF)

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an international organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, that brings together individuals and political and business leaders each year to discuss significant 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 was restored in 2022.

Key Takeaways

  • The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a Geneva-based international organization that works toward global cooperation on the day's major economic and social issues.
  • It is best known for its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, which brings together business and political leaders and thinkers to discuss 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 people to make decisions that benefit the global community.
  • The organization is funded through its 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 sectors 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 must be considered when making critical decisions.

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

The WEF is funded by its own membership, which includes industry leaders and individuals from all walks of life. In addition, many celebrities, journalists, and interested individuals are willing to pay steep 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.

What the WEF Does

WEF meetings introduce new issues, trends, and organizations to members and the public for discussion and are commonly believed to influence corporate and public sector decision-making. The WEF organization has several ongoing projects aimed at addressing specific global concerns, including climate change, health care, and urban development. It works with its international partners to bring about positive change in these areas.

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

The World Economic Forum has no power to make decisions, but it may have considerable ability to influence political and business policy decisions. The purpose of its annual meeting is to bring the world's decision-makers together regularly to discuss the pressing problems of the day and consider how best to address them.

World Economic Forum (WEF) Annual Meeting

The WEF annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, usually attracts about 2,500 people from more than 100 nations. The Davos meeting is covered by media outlets globally. 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 and economic forum.

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

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.

Recent Meetings

A January 2021 meeting occurred virtually. Not surprisingly, much of the year's discussion centered on the pandemic, focusing on the fragility of the global supply chain that the pandemic revealed. The annual in-person meeting planned for August 2021 in Singapore under the theme of "The Great Reset" was canceled. In May 2022, the conference once again was held in person in Davos.

Topics discussed by leaders at the 2022 forum were the war in Ukraine, impacts on the global economy from the war and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the future of globalization. Also in the discussions were climate change, health, technology, entreprenuer and business roles, and what work will look like in the future.

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

Failure to act on climate change, extreme weather, biodiversity loss, social cohesion erosion, livelihood crises, and infectious diseases are the top six risks identified by the World Economic Forum Perception Survey.

Who Are the Members of WEF?

The World Economic Forum does not publish a members list but does list meeting delegates. For example, there were about 2,000 delegates at the 2022 meeting in Davos.

What Is the World Economic Forum Agenda?

The World Economic Forum has three focus areas that drive its agenda and activities: mastering the fourth industrial revolution, solving the problems of the global commons, and addressing global security issues.

Article Sources
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