Critical global issues such as climate change, job reskilling and food security will be up for discussion when the World Economic Forum (WEF) meets in Singapore later this year, the first time its key stakeholders will meet in person since the Covid-19 pandemic began early last year.
The meeting, set to take place from Aug 17 to 20, comes as the world is preparing for a reset in the aftermath of the pandemic. The focus of discussions will also be on continuing efforts to fight the coronavirus as well as on economic recovery and lessons to be drawn from the pandemic.
These discussions will throw up ideas that might feed into the deliberations that follow at the United Nations General Assembly in September, the summit of the G-20 (Group of 20) heads of state and government in Rome in October, and the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference that will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in November.
These were the views of Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, who was in Singapore on a short visit. He was speaking in an exclusive interview with The Straits Times.
Hosting the meeting in Singapore is a reflection of the growing importance of Asean, he said.
"When we look at the power centres in the world, we usually speak, rightly so, about China and the US, maybe Europe, but actually the Asean region is fundamentally the fastest-growing region in the world.
"It represents a size which is larger than Europe in terms of population. So, it is also a reference to the new political and economic situation which we have in the world."
The forum has longstanding relations with both the United States and China and will be inviting the leaders of the two countries for the meeting in Singapore, and for discussions between them.
"World Economic Forum is the only organisation which looks at all those different features - political, social, economic, technological - in an interconnected way," Prof Schwab said, explaining the forum's "systemic ecosystem approach" to dealing with global issues.
"The big challenges in the world cannot be addressed or solved by governments alone, by business or by civil society," he said.
This is where a gathering of all stakeholders has a significant role to play, he said.
WEF's annual gathering of world leaders in Davos, Switzerland, is a much-watched event for discussions on global policies affecting the future of the world. This year's meeting, referred to as the Davos Agenda, held from Jan 25 to 29, was the forum's first virtual meeting.
The media coverage of the meeting was four times that of WEF's 50th anniversary celebrations in January last year, according to Prof Schwab, reflecting the global interest in the issues discussed.
The meeting in Singapore will mark only the second time that the annual meeting has been held anywhere else besides Davos. In 2002, WEF took the meeting to New York in solidarity with the people of the city after the 9/11 terror attacks.
Much progress is made when all stakeholders come together in the quest for "simple answers to complex issues", Prof Schwab said.
He pointed to one of the forum's initiatives during the Davos Agenda week, which brought together stakeholders to speed up the development of vaccines and their transport and distribution to places where they are much needed.
One of the goals of the initiative was to reduce the time taken to develop a vaccine and make it available, from about 300-plus days now to about 100 days.
Doing so could help save many lives in future pandemics. Prof Schwab noted that the world had two million people infected by Covid-19 after 100 days. Had it been possible to develop a vaccine in those 100 days, the exponential increase in the number of infections could have been checked, he said.
Instead, the world now has more than two million people who have died of Covid-19.
"So, we absolutely have to make sure that we shrink the number of days even more," Prof Schwab said.
The priorities for the meeting in Singapore will be climate change, the reskilling and upskilling of workers and building food security.
Beyond this, the forum is building a spirit of collaboration among key global players, such as the US and China, even in the face of fierce competition among them in some spheres.
"The forum is not a decision-making body, and what we want to do is to look longer term," Prof Schwab said.
Noting that governments and international organisations have a tendency to focus on narrower, shorter-term concerns in the face of electoral and other pressures, he said the WEF, with its longer-term perspective and inter-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder approach, could add much value to the global debate.
Priorities for the August meeting of the World Economic Forum in Singapore
Here is a look at some of the key initiatives for the August meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Singapore.
The WEF is relying on its long-standing ties with the United States and China as well as the goodwill it enjoys with both to encourage them to participate and discuss issues at the meet.
Relations between the two hit a low patch during former president Donald Trump's tenure at the White House and there is still uncertainty over the direction in Washington under President Joe Biden's administration.
Professor Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, said the Forum has traditionally had "excellent relations" with the US and "strong cooperation" with China. He told The Straits Times: "I hope for a very strong and high-level participation from those two countries."
A vaccine in 100 days
The WEF is working on a project to bring together pharmaceutical firms and governments to collaborate in a manner that would allow scientists to produce a vaccine within 100 days of a pandemic.
The world took about 300-plus days to approve a vaccine after Covid-19 infections emerged.
200 companies for stakeholder capitalism
Over 60 companies have committed to adopting the WEF's Stakeholder Capitalism Metrics that signals their commitment to working for the well-being of societies, and not just shareholders.
The WEF hopes to see nearly 200 firms embrace the standards by August.