The theme of the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos last week was ‘shaping the future together’ – a good theme with good intentions, indeed worthy of the WEF chairman Professor Klaus Schwab and his wife Hilde. She is in charge of the social wing of WEF, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, including the Young Global Leaders Programme, the Crystal Awards section, honouring outstanding artists from around the world, and more. Also in line with the socially conscious, yet, conservative Norwegian Børge Brende, who last year became President of WEF, for better pay and maybe even higher status than being Norway’s Foreign Minister. My countryman may not be the most exciting leader of debates and presenter of future visions; we Norwegians rarely are. We are more down to earth than the boasting American salesmen, the teenager-like Southern Europeans, and polite and logical Japanese. Norwegians and the other Scandinavians are more like the Germans, pragmatic and practical. Often, we have doubts even when we go for something; indeed, we must not be caught boasting and behave arrogantly. Well, under the surface we may have all of it, more nowadays than before.

A Norwegian friend, Ingeborg Breines, told me recently that we all, and especially some politicians in power, have become a bit too pompous, a trait which was almost sinful in my youth. She was UNESCO Director in Pakistan well over a decade ago and is now a fulltime peace activist as a senior citizen, still going strong and never anchoring up, because she believes we must fight many of the recent trends: arrogance, aloofness, inequality, rearmament, and more. She also told me that we must revisit recent history, fifty or a hundred years ago. We must remember and learn from the many solid women in Norwegian coastal fishing communities and on small farms all over the country, and the women in the industrial communities fifty or a hundred years ago. If we want to ‘shape the future together’, as they spoke about in Davos this year again, we must learn from the efforts and values of those women. Without their values – either they are in Norway, Pakistan or elsewhere – there can be no ‘future together’; the cold weather will settle, and chilly winds will blow around the corners of the sleek glass and steel headquarters of the multinationals.

A short week every January, world leaders sit at the fireplaces in five star hotels and luxury mountain cottages in Davos. They say they want a future for all, and probably they do. But then, perhaps they should also invite a few old women and men from the Swiss mountain farms behind the ski lifts and tourist hotels in Davos, along with some Norwegian and Pakistani women and men. That could help them see the issues clearer of inequality, climate change, gender, democracy, and more.

From Pakistan, I would also like to see some young people, and not only those with B.Com’s and MBA’s, but also ordinary people who can also see and reflect. There are many Malala’s in Pakistan, people say. Let us help them up on stage. They are thinking, asking questions, being concerned, having ideas and dreams. We have unlimited untapped resources in the youth in over the world. Let us give them opportunities to contribute – along with ordinary older people.

WEF in Davos is for the rich, powerful and successful. But I don’t want to see an ‘alternative WEF’. I want the forum to internalise and integrate my suggestions of becoming broader and more inclusive, toning down the role of those at the top. Already, it includes artists and cultural leaders. But there are more ideas that ordinary people have that can make WEF become better. After all, I believe that WEF does have the good intention of bringing us all together, as they say want.

However, when and how the world will listen and improve, is not really up to WEF. Its short meeting in mid-winter, their studies, books, reports, visionary outlooks, and more meetings, can only make suggestions and recommendations. To implement change is up to all of us in the structures we are; special responsibility rests with the leaders in the private sector, politics, civil society, media, and so on – who go to Davos every year.

This year, some top political leaders could not attend since their jobs at home demanded that they stay there, including US President Trump and officials, President Emmanuel Macron of France, PM Theresa May of UK, and others; Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa had to return home before the meeting opened due to unrest in his terribly divided country. Several leaders couldn’t give priority to WEF in Davos precisely because they had to handle the opposite of WEF ideals of sharing and caring in their lands. Others could not come because of the high attendance fees and costs. Some couldn’t make it for more pleasant events at home, such as the Norwegian PM Erna Solberg, who didn’t go because she presented her expanded cabinet to the king and people that very week. And the Swedish PM Stefan Löfven, who just had his cabinet installed, had not registered; but the robust Swedish private sector was well represented. Also, PM Imran Khan did not go; it was reported that he wanted to wait till his cabinet can show positive results of their efforts.

There was one speaker who was not going to wait for anything to happen first, notably the 16-year old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, who gave an impressive speech about climate change. She showed that young people have an important role to play in public debate, and older people can learn from that.

I wonder if we really learn from the WEF’s discussions in fields of democratic development and how to handle inequality. The theme of this year’s meeting should next year be followed up and made more concrete. WEF and other forums must discuss more concretely how to make the world more democratic and inclusive, then stopping populism, too. They must discuss and make suggestions about how to end wars, and how to stop them from beginning; they must discuss displaced people and refugees can be treated positively; and how it can be made a moral duty that we see migrants in the West and elsewhere as assets, as they are, helping them to feel at home and become part of mainstream society.

The World Economic Forum, the United Nations and other international institutions and organizations have realized that the growing gap between the few rich and the many others must be narrowed soon, indeed not be allowed to spiral further out of control. We know that it is not the filthy rich in private companies and multinationals that are important, have ideas and innovative skills, and do the work. It is the rest of us who actually do most of the work and make the wheels turn to benefit all. It is ordinary men and women with decent values and dreams, in Norway, Pakistan and everywhere else, who work hard and do their best, who are the real world leaders. They teach the next generation to do carry history with them, be good to others, and not overspend or overuse. They are the ones who teach the right values that we find in the holy books, even if they speak less about faith than good neighbourliness. Many times, it is the labour union leaders, not the religious leaders, who teach more clearly the basic moral values of sharing and caring.

I never want to end my articles on a pessimistic not. However, today, my worry is that the democratic systems we have developed in the world, the form of universal standards for how the broad framework in all societies should be, are not fulfilling the tasks and promises we need. If we see development of ultra-selfish, sector-interest, even semi-racist populist movements popping up, it is a failure of us all not to take action, indeed the political parties – and the leaders who go to WEF in Davos every year.

There is still hope, though. I hope that next year’s WEF will focus on these issues, the issues of this year’s meeting, more concretely. It will be less fancy and self-praising. It will be the opposite, more difficult as soul-searching always is. I hope we will be sober and realistic, practical and concrete, when we discuss small and big issues, indeed when we make new regulation to curb those at the top who think more about themselves than the vast majority of people. Let us remember the ethics, values and wisdoms of the women and men in fishing communities and rural farm villages in Norway, Pakistan and everywhere else. Their lessons and contributions are stronger than those of the men in the corner offices on the top floors of glass and steel buildings in the world’s capitals. The World Economic Forum must not be shy to listen to their inner voice and get us all to put priorities right; we cannot wait till the rich and powerful, including political leaders, decide themselves, because then it may never happen.


The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from university, diplomacy and development aid.