Let’s dive in and discover the key takeaways from the Davos Summit 2024 World Economic Forum conference in simple terms.

Every year, the World Economic Forum meeting gathers influential figures from the government, business and civil society to address major global issues. This year’s meeting was from 15 -18  January 2024. Interestingly, not many people wanted to talk about Israel and business leaders were pretty confident that there won’t be a recession in 2024.

But beyond these headline topics, leaders shared a common wish—to rebuild trust worldwide. The meeting had a lot more going on and we’re here to share the top five things we learned after a week of talks with big shots from the business and government worlds.

We face a fractured world and growing societal divides, leading to pervasive uncertainty and pessimism. We have to rebuild trust in our future by moving beyond crisis management, looking at the root causes of the present problems, and building together a more promising future.

This message was by Klaus Schwab, the founder and Executive Chairman of World Economic Forum, at the 54th annual meeting of the WEF in Davos, Switzerland. 

Davos Summit 2024: 5 Things to Know 

This year’s gathering brought together 3,000 participants from diverse backgrounds, including 1,600 corporate executives, 350 government leaders, scholars, civil society figures and entrepreneurs. Despite the exclusive nature of the event, with luxurious accommodations and networking opportunities, the focus was on addressing global issues. Now that the summit is over, scroll through the top 5 takeaways to see what you missed.

1. Humans are Going to Have Better Tools – AI won’t Kill Us

human vs artificial intelligence
  • AI was a major focus at the 2024 World Economic Forum in Davos, with influential leaders such as Satya Nadella (CEO of Microsoft) and Albert Bourla (CEO of Pfizer) discussing its potential to accelerate scientific discovery.
  • Despite the positive outlook, there were widespread calls from both the public and private sectors for regulations and the equitable distribution of AI benefits.
  • Brad Smith wanted global rules, Jeremy Hunt preferred ‘light-touch’ regulations, and Sam Altman stressed that everyone should be part of AI development. Altman also highlighted that – AI won’t replace our understanding of each other. Humans know what other humans want. Humans are going to have better tools. We’ve had better tools before, but we’re still very focused on each other.
  • Preparing future workers for AI was crucial, as Julie Sweet highlighted, while Hadi Partovi emphasized the need to teach AI tools universally to avoid technological gaps. Philosopher Michael Sandel explored the ethical side of AI beyond jobs, discussing fairness, privacy, and democracy.
  • Despite concerns, everyone agreed that human qualities would stay important, and Nick Clegg said debates on politics, society, and ethics should happen alongside evolving technology.
  • In summary, the overall mood at WEF 2024 was positive regarding AI. Also, Sam Altman who was once worried about AI risks, now thinks it won’t change the world as much as people thought. The talks acknowledged AI’s power but stressed responsible rules and inclusive development.

2. War and Uncertainty – Little Talk About Israel and Hamas

At the 54th World Economic Forum in Davos, leaders discussed 

  • Global risks like shaky politics
  • Wars in the Middle East and Europe, 
  • Worries about supply chains, and
  • Food security

Although, there wasn’t much talk about the conflict in Israel and Gaza, and there were no clear plans for peace.

  • After the violence, rebuilding Gaza was estimated to cost at least $15 billion, according to the head of the Palestine Investment Fund. However, Arab states said they wouldn’t help unless there was a solid peace agreement.
  • Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan stressed during a panel that peace in the region, including for Israel, depended on making sure Palestinians have their own state. Strangely, this crucial aspect of the Middle East crisis didn’t get much attention in the smaller discussions at Davos.
  • People wondered why there was so little talk about the Israel-Gaza conflict. Some thought it might be because finding solutions is tricky, while others felt attendees were avoiding speaking out to avoid conflicts or disagreements.
  • This hesitancy to discuss tough issues extended beyond the Israel-Gaza conflict. It showed a trend of playing it safe rather than taking bold stances that could affect business.
  • Apart from this, the conference also missed addressing the growing problem of global antisemitism, as noted by Andrew Ross Sorkin in The New York Times. The lack of conversations on crucial matters highlighted a gap in the broader discussions at Davos, emphasizing the need for a more open and inclusive approach to tackle important global issues.

3. Existential Climate Crisis – Let’s Face It

At the Davos meeting, leaders talked about how climate change affects health. They said –

  • Businesses need to adjust to climate change, and 
  • Countries should work together despite differences. 

Ajay Banga from the World Bank said we are facing a serious climate crisis, and we need to act urgently. Leaders also discussed how businesses benefit from sustainable practices and the importance of using resources wisely to fight climate change.

Developed countries were reminded by a Belgian trade unionist to help finance climate actions in developing countries. This helps prevent growing inequality worldwide. The UN’s environmental conference even introduced a “Health Day” to show how climate change impacts human health, from diseases to mental health issues.

Public Views and Business Impact of Climate Change

According to a survey, big businesses and the energy industry can do a lot to reduce the effects of climate change. Business leaders are already facing problems like disruptions in supply chains due to climate change. To be successful, businesses need to focus on being resilient and regenerative, meaning they create positive impacts rather than just avoiding negative ones.

Regeneration and Sustainable Business Models

Regeneration means rethinking how businesses work to create positive impacts. Companies like Patagonia are leading the way by using sustainable practices. The consumer goods industry is also changing because of new rules and what consumers expect.

Challenges and the Call for Change

A survey showed that only 16% of leaders feel ready for challenges due to climate change. Not being ready can cost a lot, but being resilient can add up to 15% to the world’s economy. Leaders say we need a big transformation to build a better future. They emphasize that relying on using up Earth’s resources is a bad idea, and everyone needs to go through a massive change.

4. China’s Economic Challenges

china economic challenge
  • China encounters economic hurdles with a deceleration in its growth momentum. With a GDP growth of 5.2% in 2023, the nation remains beneath pre-pandemic levels. In response, China aimed to attract increased Western investment, although interest from the West has waned. Complicating matters, the U.S. endeavours to isolate China, notably visible in the ongoing semiconductor trade dispute.
  • Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, highlighted China’s significant structural economic challenges, with Western companies reducing their investments. Despite this, even a 3% to 4% growth in China remains meaningful for many companies at the World Economic Forum.
  • Chinese Premier Li Qiang acknowledged the challenges, revealing the 5.2% growth publicly. There are concerns about sustaining growth, especially as the U.S. seeks to isolate China and it loses foreign direct investment. This sustained challenge has led China to reach out more constructively to the private sector in an effort to address its economic issues.

5. India at Davos Summit 2024

  • India is transforming rapidly and is recognized as one of the fastest-growing large economies globally. McKinsey and Company highlighted India’s significance in technology, talent, healthcare and more, making it a key focus for the future. 
  • India’s official delegation, led by Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani, participated actively, aligning with the WEF theme of ‘Rebuilding Trust.’ Smt. Smriti Zubin Irani participated in 8 sessions, including, ‘Restoring Faith in the Global Systems’, ‘BRICS in Expansion’, ‘Can India Seize its Moment’, and ‘Country Strategy Dialogue on India. Her presence in these sessions emphasized gender equality and women-led development in GOI policies.
  • The launch of the “Global Good Alliance for Gender-Equity and Equality” was a key takeaway, aiming to boost the global economy by $1 trillion annually by 2040 through investments in women’s health, education, and enterprise.
  • The Alliance received support from industry leaders like Mastercard, Uber, Tata, and more, with over 10,000 partners joining. The CII Centre for Women Leadership, supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will house and anchor the alliance.
  • A unique initiative, the ‘We Lead’ lounge, facilitated discussions on women-led development, digital gender gap, and women’s health.
  • The Union Minister engaged in productive bilateral meetings with global leaders. These included discussions with HE Noor Ali Alkhulaif, the Minister for Sustainable Development in the Kingdom of Bahrain, H.E. Mrs. Karien van Gennip, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Social Affairs and Employment of the Netherlands, and H.E. Ms. Karoline Edtstadler, the Federal Minister for the EU and Constitution in the Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria. The meetings focused on exploring areas of common interest and potential collaboration between nations.

Now that we’ve learned a lot about what happened at the 54th World Economic Forum Summit in 2024, let’s take a closer look at the history of WEF and why it’s such an important event.

World Economic Forum: Beyond Davos

When people talk about the World Economic Forum (WEF), they usually think of the beautiful town of Davos in the Swiss Alps. 

But WEF isn’t just about its yearly meeting; it has a bigger purpose that goes beyond the snowy mountains.

WEF vs. Davos: What Sets Them Apart?

The World Economic Forum is famous for its week-long yearly meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where high-profile individuals like business leaders, billionaires, heads of state, academics, and celebrities gather to discuss global challenges at a lofty 5,000 feet above sea level. However, once the meetings are done, WEF goes back to its headquarters in the suburbs of Geneva, leaving Davos until the next summit.

Origin of World Economic Forum

Klaus Schwab has been the driving force behind the World Economic Forum (WEF) since its inception. In 1971, he laid the groundwork by hosting the first meeting in Davos, emphasizing accountability for business leaders beyond shareholders.

Evolution and Global Expansion

Renamed in 1987, WEF expanded its guest list to include politicians, NGOs, scientists, and cultural leaders. Historical milestones followed, such as the end of the Cold War and the symbolic handshake marking the end of apartheid.

Schwab’s Full-Time Focus

In 2003, Klaus Schwab transitioned to lead WEF full-time and left his post as a professor at the university of Geneva. This marked a transformative period, as the forum’s participants grew from 450 in 1971 to over 2,700 in 2023, showcasing its global impact.

WEF’s Financial Success

Remarkably, WEF, despite being a non-profit organization, demonstrated financial prowess, earning nearly $500 million in the 2022/2023 financial year. Its revenue-generating capabilities, if viewed as a for-profit entity, could surpass a billion dollars.

Leadership and Operations

Today, Klaus Schwab and WEF are guided by a Board of Trustees, featuring influential figures like Al Gore, Yo-Yo Ma, and Christine Lagarde. The day-to-day operations are overseen by WEF’s president, managing directors, and executive committee.

Davos: Beyond the Summit

WEF’s headquarters are not confined to Davos; it operates with offices in major cities globally. It coordinates regional meetings and summits on diverse topics, from jobs and AI to addressing the climate crisis. 

The Forum also operates 10 sector-specific centres, such as the centre for cybersecurity or the Centre for Nature and Climate. Each centre invites corporations, start-ups and governments to get involved through related initiatives. For example, the centre for health and healthcare has initiatives around protecting women and girls’ health, health workforces and the future of personalized well-being.

Sister Organizations and Global Impact

WEF extends its influence through sister organizations, focusing on empowering young people for social change. Initiatives like the Global Shaper community, boasting 15,000 members in 150 countries, highlight the forum’s commitment to global collaboration.  And every year, the WEF also publishes several key reports, like the Global Gender Gap Report or the Global Risks Report, which serve as reference in the academic sector, for businesses and in the media.

Beyond the Summit: Year-Round Initiatives

While Davos remains central, WEF has grown beyond the confines of its annual summit. It operates year-round with full-time employees, contributing to significant global initiatives. 

For example, the rapid development of Covid 19 vaccine prototypes during the pandemic was made possible after a global initiative to fight epidemics was launched at Davos in 2016.

The 1t.org platform – an  initiative to plant, restore or conserve 1 trillion trees by the end of the decade – was launched in Davos by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff and his wife Lynne in 2020. 

The launch of EDISON Alliance, a branch of WEF which has helped more than 450 million people access affordable digital services, followed in 2021. 

Davos: Criticisms and Environmental Concerns

Despite its successes, Davos and WEF face criticisms of being an echo chamber for the elite. Concerns about financial transparency, unequal representation, and high participation costs have fueled skepticism. Environmental activists also raise issues about the event’s environmental impact, with private jets and sustainability concerns drawing attention.

WEF’s Defense and Vision

In a world accustomed to virtual gatherings, some question the necessity of large in-person events. However, WEF argues that the best progress happens when people come together, emphasizing the unique value of the Davos summit. As WEF navigates complexities and critiques, it remains dedicated to fostering global cooperation for a better future.

Davos 2024 summit – Optimism, Questions and Unanswered Doubts

As the Davos 2024 summit wraps up, it makes you wonder: Is everyone really that sure about AI being a game-changer, or is there more to it? Why wasn’t there much talk about serious issues like the Israel-Gaza conflict? And can we really be so confident about fixing climate change?

It’s like leaving the summit with more questions than answers. The optimism feels a bit like a polished surface and you start wondering if the solutions they talked about are just for show or if they’ll really make a difference. The doubts and worries seem to stick around even after the discussions end. Guess we’ll have to wait and see if Davos leads us to a better world or if it’s just a fancy talk.