DOHA // The World Economic Forum's Global Redesign Initiative could hardly be more ambitious. Its main objective is to adapt the tools of international co-operation - the G20, UN bodies, the World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the like - to the complex challenges of the 21st century to ensure the long-term security of humanity.
It also aims to create a more inclusive global system. "Legitimacy comes from people," Kishore Mahbubani, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and a former Singapore ambassador to the UN, said during the opening session of this week's Global Redesign Summit in Doha. The report the WEF prepared for the event is titled Everybody's Business. "We have to learn to listen to the voices of 6.8 billion people," he added. "The real purpose of this meeting is: let's figure out how we can get the whole world involved in this, and not just some parts of it."
Backed by the governments of Qatar, Tanzania, Singapore and Switzerland, the WEF launched the redesign initiative more than a year ago, in the depths of the financial crisis. A major objective was to move away from the so-called Washington Consensus and Bretton Woods-style institutions, created and led by industrialised countries, in the hopes of avoiding future catastrophes. "The world has gone through a heart attack," Arif Naqvi, the founder of the Dubai-based Abraaj Capital, the region's largest private equity firm, said during the opening plenary. "We have to work very carefully through this moment to make sure everyone acts in concert to make sure this doesn't happen again."
The GRI tasked more than 1,000 analysts, officials and policymakers to re-envision international institutions to better address global health, security, sustainability, development and the financial system. At a series of meetings over the past year, their ideas matured into proposals, which Doha participants sought to put into action. "We have lots of ideas that now need spouses," the WEF vice chairman, Mark Malloch-Brown said, advising government officials to choose a proposal and work to implement it.
Inclusion may be easier said than done. Despite the call for innovation and bold rethinking, many speakers at the event held fast to traditional institutions of co-operation. Richard Samans, the WEF's managing director, explained that the redesign initiative did not intend to replace the existing system for international co-operation, but rather augment it. "We are not here to overthrow the system," agreed He Yafei, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. "Global redesign of the system is not a revolution; it's more an evolution."
Few of the 58 proposals, which are to be finalised at Davos, Switzerland, in January, are revolutionary. They include strengthening the financial safety net, the creation of an international financial risk monitor, expanding the capacity of the International Labor Organisation and improving a UN-supported programme called Education for All. "A lot of the proposals are what you might call 'punting'," passing the problem on, said Parag Khanna, the director of global governance at the New America Foundation, who previously worked for the WEF. He sat in on several meetings over the past year and attended several sessions during the Doha summit. "It's not quite redesign yet."
In addition, one sizeable demographic was mostly absent. "For everything, whether it's financial or climate change, we should look at the poor as part of the process, rather than beneficiaries," said Harish Hande, the founder and managing director of Selco, a provider of sustainable energy solutions to rural India. He was speaking on Davos Debates in Doha, a YouTube channel set up for the event. "Redesign needs to happen where the poor become part of the implementers, designers and thought processes," Mr Hande said.
In the end, the GRI may be less redesign than makeover. In calling for change, one prominent observer complained of a hidebound system dominated by inertia. "International deadlock is the norm; cynicism and mistrust are common currency," said Queen Rania of Jordan, who is on the redesign council for education. "If just enough people are happy, there's no need to change it." Mr Khanna acknowledged that the GRI is in part a branding exercise. But it could still effect change. "I think we might see in a couple years' time that international organisations move towards sharing resources and collaborating more with NGOs and corporations," he said. "And it will partially be attributable to WEF."