[Editor's note: This article was authored by BSR, a global business network and consultancy focused on sustainability.]
The 40th World Economic Forum at Davos gets underway this week in a world still groping for direction and solutions to structural changes and economic weakness that plague the global economy. Is it realistic to expect that the 2,500 people at Davos will deliver a truly sustainable economic recovery?
The disappointing outcome at Copenhagen was a powerful example of how risky it is to expect grand, global gatherings to save the world. Does that mean it's best to keep expectations of Davos in check? Maybe not.
Davos is a place where influential government, business, and civil society leaders gather to create new solutions to vexing problems. It is, in its own elite way, more representative of the 21st century world than the summits that rely on formal treaties. You could say that Davos, with its informal opportunities for connections, is a social networking site in the snow, while Copenhagen, with its formal communiqués, is more like the Congress of Vienna.
In proper web 2.0 fashion, much of the goings-on are user generated, organized by participants outside the official program. And by looking at what's happening at the "off-piste" meetings and events, it's easy to see that sustainability is at the core of this 40th Davos.
It is precisely the combination of the official and unofficial agenda at Davos that has the potential to contribute to sustainable prosperity -- especially if it can deliver systemic redesign, spark innovation for sustainability, and leverage the power of the network it has assembled.
Indeed, one of the WEF's core themes this year is system redesign. It's looking to make progress on its Global Redesign Initiative, an effort to promote governance improvements for inclusive economic growth that is also environmentally sustainable. In addition, the chairs of Davos' 70 Global Agenda Councils (which includes one I will lead on sustainable consumption) will close the event with recommendations to bring to a summit in Qatar this May.
It is then that the outputs of these 70 councils, which range from the future of China to the future of journalism, will be presented formally to a group of governments. The goal is nothing less than "fostering transformational innovation in global governance" to solve the world's most pressing problems. So we should give the WEF credit for its effort to look at global problems from a systemic perspective.