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 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 (WEF) is a Geneva-based international organization that discusses issues concerning the global political economy.
  • The organization is funded through its own membership, which includes many prominent figures.
  • Each year, the WEF holds its annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, drawing important world leaders and thinkers.

Understanding the World Economic Forum (WEF)

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) membership features 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 role 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 also has offices in New York, Beijing, Tokyo, San Francisco, and Mumbai. The most recent annual meeting in Davos was held as a virtual, global meeting in January 2021, with an in-person annual meeting planned for August 2021 in Singapore under the theme of "The Great Reset." The January 2021 meeting of the Davos World Economic Forum brought together 1,700 people, but only virtually. Not surprisingly, many of the year's discussions focused on the pandemic. Much of it focused on the fragility of the global supply chain that the pandemic revealed.

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 such as Africa, East Asia, and Latin America, but the annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is the central meeting event for all members.

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

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

The WEF 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 as 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.

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 Davos WEF 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. The forum focuses on shaping global, regional, and industry agendas and is among the most popular, well-attended, and high-profile events in the world.

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 recent trends in society, technological progress, environmental concerns, and the economic destruction resulting from the response to 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 economic reset calls for updating how the gross domestic product (GDP) is measured so that household and digital work are included, redistributing income and the gains from growth, and incorporating the resilience of societal institutions into measurements of economic health and performance.

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

The Great Reset has generated significant controversy as the implications of this agenda have become public. Beyond general opposition among those who favor free enterprise and oppose radical reconstruction of society, there have been several apparent gaffes by the WEF that have led to the deletion or re-editing of publications and social media posts. Critics have argued that these statements suggested that under the Great Reset people will own nothing and have no privacy and portrayed the economic devastation inflicted on urban economies by the COVID-19 as an improvement.