Setting the stage for clarity in a fragile world

This year’s summit in Dubai offers an opportunity to build consensus amid increasing global complexity, the World Economic Forum’s Espen Barth Eide says.

From left, Espen Barth Eide with Sultan Al Mansouri, the Minister of Economy, and Sami Al Qamzi, the director general of Dubai's Department of Economic Development. Pawan Singh / The National
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This year's summit in Dubai offers an opportunity to build consensus amid increasing global complexity, the World Economic Forum's managing director Espen Barth Eide tells The National. He formerly held ministerial posts in foreign affairs and defence in the Norwegian government and is a United Nations Special Adviser on Cyprus.

What are your ambitions for this year’s summit?

Events of the past 12 months have demonstrated that, even though the worst effects of the global financial crisis may have passed, other significant global challenges continue to increase in scale and scope – from income inequality and rising nationalism, to the incidence of infectious disease and the effects of climate change. The Global Agenda Councils were created to address this by bringing together the world’s foremost experts in one place – not just to share knowledge, but also to provide solutions that will help leaders navigate these complex and interconnected challenges and govern more effectively.

Over the past year, we have made good progress in developing a concept that we call Transformation Maps – an undertaking to catalogue, for the first time, all global challenges in a systemic way to create what we hope is a tool for comprehensive and dynamic decision-making that can be used by all the world’s leaders. This is currently in beta phase and will be developed further in Dubai.

Another innovation is an event we are calling Future Circles. This is a special gathering being organised immediately after the summit for senior leaders of the UAE Government to interact with members of the Global Agenda Councils across a wide range of expertise. This is unprecedented in terms of the level of collaboration, and we hope it will help catalyse a level of transformative change here and further afield. Lastly, the summit will be more accessible to the public than ever before, with all media briefings as well as public sessions webcast live on our website.

How important is the Middle East in the WEF's overall world view?

The Middle East plays a crucial role in global affairs, with many countries in the region currently facing a number of geopolitical challenges, as well as economic ones with global implications, including persistent youth unemployment, skills shortages and a deficit in innovation-driven entrepreneurship. These issues are by no means unique to the region, however, they are critical to it, and therefore finding solutions to them will have a positive impact in charting a path towards long-term stability and prosperity.

The region is also influencing the global agenda in positive ways. For example, resource-abundant countries in the Gulf are major international investors in every region and almost every economy in the world and as such play a constructive role in driving growth, upgrading infrastructure and creating jobs.

What role do you see for the Arabian Gulf countries in political and economic policy-making in the region?

Countries in the wider Middle East and North Africa region may not have the same abundance of natural resources as many countries in the Gulf. However, they can still benefit from the lessons learnt and practices developed there. In the field of government services, for example, the UAE has established clear goals that are helping deliver better, more transparent public services and also building greater levels of trust between the government and the population.

Is the Middle East becoming a long-term “issue” for global policymakers?

Every region has its own issues and challenges. The Middle East issues are particularly relevant to the world since they bear the possibility of having serious spillover effects. Therefore it is in the interest of the global community to help fight terrorism and all other forms of extremism. The best way to do so is to provide hope to the young generation. This means to improve the education systems, to enhance gender equality and above all, to provide the young generation with decent jobs. All these issues certainly will be discussed at the summit.

The theme of the WEF's annual meeting next year in Davos is "The New Global Context". What is the thinking behind this and how will this week's summit contribute to this debate?

Every year we select a theme for our annual meeting that aims to capture the priorities facing the world at that point in time. In this spirit, The New Global Context is about the profound political, economic, social and technological changes in the world in the past 12 months – and which have the potential to end an era of global economic integration and partnership since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Leaders from all stakeholder groups – government, business or civil society – need to be able to traverse this new landscape and address the complexity, fragility and uncertainty that are increasingly characterising their agendas.

This week’s summit has an important role to play in helping leaders better understand and adapt to this new context. The discussions that are held every year at the summit also help prepare the intellectual framework for our annual meeting in Davos and are further developed during the two-year mandate of the councils. Increasingly though, the work of the councils is impacting global, regional and industry agendas in their own right, whether through improved access to intellectual property expertise for inventors in the developing world, to discovering new and better ways of monitoring the health of our oceans or to identifying breakthrough technologies that will become the growth engine of our economies in the future.

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