The World Economic Forum (WEF) is unique organization, as it brings together leaders from business, government, NGOs and academia. It has formulated an ambitious mission: commitment to improving the state of the world through Public-Private Cooperation. It aims to do so by engaging its stakeholders to shape global, regional and industry agenda’s. For a quick impression of its main mission and activities, check out their video which tells ‘the story’ of the WEF. In this article, I will argue how the network of the WEF is perfectly fit to make – and has made – a valuable contribution to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 17 on the one hand. On the other hand, I will try to identify some major challenges in this regard. This article will not give a full overview of the opportunities and challenges related to the WEF, but aims to give you a short insight on its activities in relation to SDG 17.
A platform to improve the state of the world
As the mission of the WEF is broadly defined, so are its fields of activity. Its members and partners consist of business from roughly all sectors imaginable and they engage with governments, academia and NGOs from all over the world. Therefore, when linking the WEFs activities to the implementation of the SDGs, a focus on one or two single goals would be too limited. There is one goal however, which can be partly related to all activities of the WEF.
Sustainable Development Goal 17
SDG 17, Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development, the second half in particular, is closely related to the mission and activities of the WEF. SDG 17 relates to finance, technology, capacity-building, and systemic issues. The WEF is particularly interesting when it comes to the following two systemic issues:
“Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources, to support the achievement of the sustainable development goals in all countries, in particular developing countries.”
“Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships.”
The most powerful network in the world
The WEF might be the most powerful network in the world, as among its members are several of the largest companies in the world and they work together with the most influential politicians and NGOs. Moreover, the WEF aims to facilitate a dialogue between these stakeholders, to make them work together in improving the state of the world. This has led to several agreements and partnerships. For instance, over 10 billion USD investment commitments have been mobilized to enhance food security in Africa and the WEF hosted a 10 million USD global partnership to help companies, governments and civil society organization to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020 in the supply chains of beef, palm oil, paper and pulp, and soy.
In addition, with its influential network, the WEF is able to set the agenda on certain issues. Mobilizing both the public and private sector in taking action on certain issues. The WEF recently launched a the Inclusive Growth and Development Report, identifying ways for countries to foster higher levels of productivity and social inclusion.
The latter are just a few examples on how the WEF has been able to spark a dialogue – and action – between the public and the private sector in improving the state of the world. In conclusion, I would argue the WEF has made major achievements in uniting the public and the private sector and in engaging them to face global challenges.
A double edged sword
On the other hand, I would argue that the variation within the immense network of the WEF pose a challenge. Firstly, some of the members of the WEF can be regarded as companies whose activities have not contributed to improving the state of the world at all. For instance, Glencore isn’t known for its environmental policies and its respect for human rights, and yet it is one of the WEFs (paying) members. The WEFs response to this criticism is that it does not judge its members on their activities, but it aims to enhance cooperation between its members and other stakeholders to improve the state of the world. A valid point, and starting a dialogue for improvements and partnerships is possibly a way to change the attitude and activities of its members.
Moreover, the goals of some the WEF members do not indefinitely seem to align with WEFs aim of improving the state of the world. At the annual meeting in Davos of 2016, the largest event hosted by the WEF, VICE interviewed several attendants. Some attendants note how they use the event to extend their network to ‘get their business out there’. Joseph Stiglitz – one of the most influential economists of the world – states that some of the most powerful people in the world attending the event are committed to improving the state of the world, but that others – equally powerful – are actually firm proponents of fostering inequality.
I have argued how there are several sides to the activities on the WEF, especially when it comes to the aims of SDG 17. One the one hand, the WEF provides a state of the art platform wherein stakeholders partner up to improve the state of the world. On the other hand, the aims of its members can be questioned as they might not be focused at doing so.