WEF Davos 2014: Keeping up with a fast-changing world

A view of the Swiss village of Davos, which every year hosts global leaders at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. This year’s event will run from 22 to 25 January 2014.
(Image: Andy Mettler, World Economic Forum)

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More than 2 500 business leaders and politicians are expected soon in Davos, Switzerland, to discuss the challenges faced by the global economy during the annual meeting held by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The 44th annual general meeting, which takes place from January 22 to 25, will address the challenges facing the world in 2014 under the theme, “The Reshaping of the World – Consequences for Society, Politics and Business”. The aim of WEF 2014 is “to create a completely new context for insightful, future-oriented decision-making”, the forum says.

Who will be there

Presidents and prime ministers from around the world attend the annual meeting, with heads of state from the G20 countries, including Australia, Japan, Italy, the UK, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea, invited to address this year’s gathering.

Nearly 40 African leaders, among them nine heads of government, will attend, including the presidents of Tanzania, Rwanda, Nigeria, Ghana and Liberia. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies will lead the high-level South African delegation this year.

Participants include more than 1 500 business leaders from the forum’s 1 000 member companies. Representatives from international organisations, civil society and spiritual leaders, academia and the media, as well as cultural leaders will also be there.

What’s on the agenda?

“Profound political, economic, social and, above all, technological forces” are transforming our lives, communities and institutions, WEF says, with power shifting from traditional hierarchies to “networked heterarchies”, a flatter, more inclusive form of self-organisation. But by remaining focused on crisis rather than trends and opportunities, the international community is failing to take advantage of this.

WEF is hoping to change that through discussion in Davos: “Our aim is to develop the insights, initiatives and actions necessary to respond to current and emerging challenges,” the forum says.

Watch the WEF Global Risks Report:

The official programme will focus on:

  • Disruptive innovation: Turning the disruption of scientific breakthroughs and technological forces into long-term opportunities.
  • Inclusive growth: Models, sectors and industries that will generate resilient and equitable growth.
  • Society’s new expectations: Given the widespread erosion of confidence in business and government leaders, what steps will make business and government more accountable and strengthen civic participation?
  • A world of 9 billion: With increasing pressure on resources and the environment, how can economies embark on a more sustainable path to development?

There are almost 250 sessions on the programme, with WEF planning to stream many of them via its website and tweet many others (hashtags #WEF and #Davos). Team South Africa will be tweeting its side of the conversation using #WEF14SA.

Africa at Davos

There would be no formal sessions devoted to Africa this year, Elsie Kanza, WEF director: head of Africa, told Voice of America (VoA). Instead, African issues would be integrated into other global topics that were to be addressed.

“Something that is important from the African community, and which we paid heed to this year, is that they were tired of being boxed into an Africa corner,” she told VoA. “They said Africa is very much part of the world and Davos is really a platform that is global, and that therefore what you have is African voices on global issues.”

Kanza said African leaders did not want their issues to be treated as isolated cases. The Davos focus should be more on Africa’s place in the world, rather than on the continent or region of origin.

South Africa at Davos

Reshaping the world is not news to us, Brand South Africa, the country’s official marketing agency, says. “We have always been reshaping our policy and nation based on challenges, opportunities and our vision for South Africa as a competitive nation and global example.”

It will lead a high-powered delegation to Davos to network with government, business and civil society leaders as it seeks to position South Africa as a competitive, developed economy that offers good returns on investment. “We know so much still needs to be done, yet we are confident the vision of an economically prosperous Africa is within reach,” President Jacob Zuma told WEF last year.

The South African delegation will aim to show that the country has achieved a great deal in reshaping the nation over the past 20 years. South Africa is a very competitive nation on the continent and the globe, “but we are always striving for better and more, which is why we have the Vision 2030, which defines the future of who we as a nation want to be”, Brand South Africa says.

South Africa’s strengths

Although South Africa has declined in rankings on some of the performance pillars in the WEF Global Competitiveness Report, improvement has been noted in other critical areas, such as financial market development among the Brics nations, robustness of institutions, innovation, business sophistication, and goods and market efficiency.

“Being a forward-looking country, the areas in decline are being addressed through various initiatives and also through deliberate focus and actions around the blueprint for economic development and social cohesion – the NDP [National Development Plan]; South Africa’s Vision 2030,” Brand South Africa says.

Investment destination

Since its transition to democracy, South Africa has certainly made strides, with an economy steadily on the rise and a detailed, actionable plan for the future. “With Africa claiming its stake as a viable investment destination, South Africa continues to present investment opportunities to the world at large through its resilient industries and sound legal and regulatory frameworks,” Brand South Africa says. “There is no doubt that South Africa is an investment destination that is brimming with investment opportunities.”

Five key areas help position the country as a compelling and sound investment destination:

  • South Africa’s clear vision for the country for 2030
  • South Africa’s competitiveness
  • The strength of the South African economy and its relationship with other Brics nations
  • The strides made on the innovation front
  • South Africa’s role in the integration of Africa

South African events at Davos 2014

Brand South Africa will host a business breakfast in Davos on Wednesday, 22 January. The discussion will focus on South Africa’s achievements over the past 20 years of democracy, as well as the country’s vision for the future as outlined in the National Development Plan.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan will deliver the key address, while panelists will include Goldman Sachs managing director Colin Coleman, Business Unity South Africa president Jabu Mabuza and First Rand chief executive Sizwe Nxasana.

A “Night with South Africa” will be hosted by Brand South Africa on Wednesday, 22 January at the Kirchner Museum. Over a cocktail or a glass of South African wine, “Team South Africa” – including deputy chair Happy Ntshingila and chief executive Miller Motala – will share what the country has to offer as a business destination.

Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel will deliver a keynote address, while Dr Klaus Schwab, the forum’s founder and executive chairman, has been invited to deliver a WEF message on the legacy of Nelson Mandela, who died in December last year.

A framed image of Madiba’s handprint will be handed over to Schwab at the event.