Rebuilding trust, the challenge of the World Economic Forum in Davos

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

The ever-evolving landscape of global challenges is on the table as the 54th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) begins. As leaders from government, business, and civil society gather, the meeting promises to provide a crucial space to address the pressing issues of our time under the theme “Rebuilding Trust.”. The forum will be held from 15–19 January 2024 in Davos, Switzerland.

Over 100 governments, major international organizations, and 1000 Forum Partners will converge at the Annual Meeting, creating a unique space for dialogue. Civil society leaders, experts, youth representatives, social entrepreneurs, and media outlets will add diverse perspectives to the discussions. This inclusive gathering reflects the urgency of the ‘polycrisis’—the convergence of multiple crises, from climate and biodiversity to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and concerns over the cost of living.

As societies and companies grapple with profound shifts—from geoeconomics to climate change to artificial intelligence—the need for solutions becomes increasingly apparent. The Annual Meeting aims to move beyond diagnosing challenges to fostering actionable solutions. In a world where trust is eroding, the meeting seeks to instil confidence by focusing on transparency, consistency, and accountability.

Themes Driving the Dialogue

The ‘Rebuilding Trust’ theme permeates the Annual Meeting, addressing trust at three fundamental levels: into the future, within societies, and among nations. The method employed involves open and constructive dialogue, bringing together leaders from government, business, and civil society to find solutions to global challenges. The program connects the dots in a complex environment, providing foresight with the latest advances in science, industry, and society.

Stakeholders: A Diverse Tapestry of Voices

The Annual Meeting 2024 is set to be a melting pot of perspectives, welcoming over 100 governments, major international organizations, Forum Partner companies, civil society leaders, experts, the youth generation, social entrepreneurs, and the media. This diversity ensures a comprehensive exploration of ideas and collaborative efforts towards sustainable solutions.

Programmatic Priorities

The program will be structured around four interconnected thematic priorities:

  • Achieving Security and Cooperation in a Fractured World: Addressing security crises while navigating structural forces of fragmentation through cooperation.
  • Creating Growth and Jobs for a New Era: Focusing on a new economic framework that places people at the centre, minimizing trade-offs and maximizing synergies.
  • Artificial Intelligence as a Driving Force for the Economy and Society: Examining the role of AI in benefiting society, navigating regulatory landscapes, and understanding its interface with transformative technologies.
  • A Long-Term Strategy for Climate, Nature, and Energy: Developing a systemic approach for a carbon-neutral and nature-positive world, balancing trade-offs to achieve social consensus.

Challenges Amidst Aspirations

It is no secret that even today, the world still grapples with the ongoing repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and the emergence of new conflicts globally, and rebuilding trust in institutions becomes increasingly daunting. The relevance of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the harbinger of global dialogue and collaboration, is now subject to debate and scrutiny.

In recent years, the Annual Meeting has witnessed a thinning of high-level attendees. Notable figures, such as US President Joe Biden, have been conspicuously absent. The 2023 gathering saw German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as the lone leader of a G7 country in attendance.

According to Peter Willetts, Emeritus Professor of Global Politics at City, University of London, leaders strategically decide on the benefits of attending the WEF each year. This strategic decision-making has shaped the attendee list, with expectations that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy may rally support for his country, prompting a likely low-level political delegation from Russia. The US is anticipated to send a delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

Despite doubts about firm solutions, Davos remains an opportunity to mitigate factors leading to global conflict. According to Jack Copley, Assistant Professor in International Political Economy at Durham University, the WEF’s approach to addressing global issues through ‘multi-stakeholder governance’ emphasizes collaboration among diverse stakeholders.

The WEF has certainly been a major force promoting ideas of public-private partnerships and multi-stakeholder collaboration in response to global challenges,” noted Jan Aart Scholte, Professor of Global Transformations and Governance Challenges at Leiden University. The event’s true value lies in networking and knowledge accumulation, fostering diverse interactions among national politicians, UN officials, business leaders, and NGO representatives.

The WEF’s Global Risks Report for 2024 identifies disinformation and misinformation as the greatest threats over the next two years. With AI playing a significant role in generating convincing disinformation rapidly, global solutions are scarce. The lack of global regulation on AI is a pressing concern despite the European Union’s provisional deal.

However, critics argue that the WEF’s agenda might miss the mark by not posing creative questions. According to Scholte, this year’s WEF could explore building peace instead of achieving security and debating the concept of growth rather than taking its desirability for granted.

WEF: A Global Elite Club?

Some critics contend that the WEF and other multi-stakeholder endeavours have democratic deficits, excluding those affected from meaningful participation and control. The exclusive, invitation-only nature of the event raises questions about its impact on the common man, with claims of a “global elite” making decisions. Conspiracies, amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic, question the WEF’s role in global affairs.


The 54th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum emerges as a vital platform to steer the course through today’s challenges towards a more sustainable and equitable future. As leaders converge to discuss, debate, and devise solutions, the spirit of collaboration and trust-building will undoubtedly shape the narrative for the year ahead. In a world where uncertainty looms large, the Annual Meeting stands as a testament to the power of collective action and the pursuit of shared values.

About the author

Dr. Florence Akano

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