x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Dubai forum takes on the whole world

Dubai is hosting three days of brainstorming with the WEF global agenda summit. And there is no shortage of issues to debate.

Martina Gmür, a senior director with WEF, says 'we are trying to get away from the notion that we're only interested in the West'. Christopher Pike / The National
Martina Gmür, a senior director with WEF, says 'we are trying to get away from the notion that we're only interested in the West'. Christopher Pike / The National

According to the organisers, it is the "world's biggest brainstorming session, the foremost think tank on the planet".

From tomorrow until Wednesday, Dubai will be the stage for a display of raw brainpower such as rarely comes together in a single location, especially in the era of modern communications.

More than 1,000 academics, business people, politicians, religious leaders and even media representatives will gather to discuss, face to face, virtually every important issue facing the world today.

The summit of the World Economic Forum's Global Agenda Councils is in town.

The experts will cogitate and debate economics and finance, the environment, geopolitics and security, science and technology, and society and human capital.

The aim is to hammer out the final agenda for the annual meeting of the WEF in Davos in January, but those attending in Dubai are rather more down to earth than the superstars of politics, finance and the arts that gather in the Swiss alpine town.

Martina Gmür, the senior director of the network of councils that forms the summit, said: "You've got to start with ideas, to try to understand the big issues of the day."

There is no shortage of issues. The councils comprise experts on 75 identified subjects, ranging from the international monetary system to the Arctic, and from youth unemployment to the role of faith, taking in poverty, personal transportation systems and precision medicine on the way.

This year, there are some significant additions to the agenda: new economic growth models, governance for sustainability, and "complex systems" are among the dozen categories added to the councils' portfolio.

For the first time, regional councils will deliberate alongside the subject-based specialisms. So experts from the Arab world, Ukraine and Japan, among others, will also contribute to the debates.

There is a greater presence from the UAE than ever before. It is the fifth time the summit has been held in the country, but this time there are Emiratis on more than 40 of the total 88 councils (including regional organisations), 60 per cent more than last year.

"We have been criticised in the past for being too orientated to the USA and Europe, and we are trying to get away from the notion we're only interested in the West," says Ms Gmür.

The summit has been enthusiastically welcomed by the UAE. Sultan Al Mansouri, the federal Minister of Economy and one of the co-chairmen of the summit, said yesterday: "The UAE wants to be a full partner in the global dialogue. We want to talk about the positive experience of the UAE over the years since the global financial crisis, which is still affecting some countries."

Sami Dhaen Al Qamzi,the director general of the Dubai Department of Economic Development and the other co-chairman, said: "The summit coincides with our campaign to stage the Expo 2020 event, and we hope our focus on development and free trade will emphasise our efforts for Expo."

Perhaps inevitably, the main focus of the summit will continue to be on the economic, financial and geopolitical problems of the world. Ms Gmür said: "There are big issues in terms of global economic uncertainty, the problems of the euro zone, market instability and public indebtedness.

"I'm sure there will also be much thought given to the crisis of global leadership, as the summit comes so soon after big political changes in the US and China, and in the middle of calls for a change in leadership style in Europe."

Lee Howell, a managing director of the WEF said the summit should focus on long-term strategic thinking, not just crisis management. "We need some innovative entrepreneurial thinking.

"To manage the world's risks leaders have got to take some risks themselves."

He also called for some "holistic thinking - for example, problems of water, food and energy security are all linked".

Many issues relating to the Middle East have risen to the top of the WEF's schedule in the 18 months since the start of the Arab Spring. Youth unemployment, education, human rights and women's empowerment are all on the summit's agenda.

Ms Gmür said: "On the big issues, for example like Iran or the Arab Spring, we have to try to understand them. Nobody does this like we do. We are not pretending to be advocates or implementation groups. We are partners with government and other organisations to generate new ideas."