What the ‘New Global Elite’ are Talking About at Davos 2011

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Vincent Kessler / REUTERS

World Economic Forum tries to make room for youth

Over the years I’ve been attending Davos not as a Global 500 CEO, government or NGO leader but as a worker. Basically I’m one of hundreds of academics and authors who are invited to hold sessions, participate in panels and otherwise try to stimulate everyone else to be innovative about improving the state of the world.

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of hosting a session on the New Realities with the Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders.  The session addressed the question: If structural change is becoming the norm globally, then what are the major adjustments looming ahead and how should leaders face them? Here are some of the answers being discussed at Davos:

We had seven groups that each tackled one of the following topics: The schools and education system in the digital age; the newspaper in the digital age; the university: moving to collaborative learning; government as a platform; healthcare: achieving collaborative health; Democracy 2.0; and global problem-solving: beyond nation states. The sessions are private but I can say a few words about my views on the topics and how I introduced the discussion.

Schools and the education system

We need to rethink the model of pedagogy for the digital age.  One of the smartest IT investments a country can make today is giving young students an education suitable for the 21st century. A world leader is Portugal.  Nearly nine out of 10 students in Grades 1 to 4 have a laptop. The impact on the classroom has been tremendous. In the classrooms I visited I watched children collaborating. They were working at their own pace. The laptops changed the relationship they had with their teacher. Instead of fidgeting in their chairs while the teacher lectures and scrawls some notes on the blackboard, they were going online and being the explorers, the discoverers, and the teacher was their helpful guide.


I believe a new, more dynamic news industry looms on the horizon. Newspaper executives need to reinvent their value proposition and business models. First, listen to today’s youthL, because within their culture is the new culture of news and information. Second, commodity news won’t cut it for any audience, so create a distinct offering. Third, develop rich, multimedia experiences for new digital platforms and devices. Finally, embrace collaborative innovation by creating an open platform so that others can help you invent new sources of value.

Collaborative learning

The transformation of the university is not just a good idea—it is an imperative.   Two things need to happen. First, we need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy—how learning is accomplished —and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning.  Second, we need an entirely new modus operandi for how the content of higher education—the subject matter, course materials, texts, written and spoken word and other media—is created. Rather than the old textbook publishing model, which is both slow and expensive for users, universities professors and other participants would contribute to an open platform of world-class educational resources that students everywhere can access throughout their lifetime.

Government as platform

Just as new waves of innovation are washing over the private sector, opportunities to harness new models of collaboration and innovation are arriving at the doorstep of governments everywhere. Indeed, if mass collaboration is changing how enterprises innovate, orchestrate capability, and engage their stakeholders, why can’t the public sector seize networked business models to cut across departmental silos, improve policy outcomes, reduce costs, and increase public value?


The benefit of collaborative healthcare is that it would give us a system that is less expensive, safer and better than what we have today. For the first time, the Web 2.0 enables people to self-organize, contribute to the total sum of knowledge, share information, support each other and become active in managing their own health. And when patients get engaged, they can manage their own health more effectively, help reduce costs and improve medical outcomes for society.

Democracy 2.0

We need a new model where citizens are more engaged.  Under current systems, voters only count during election time. They have little or no influence in between elections, when the lawmakers and influencers are in charge and citizens are passive. What is needed is a way to allow citizens to contribute ideas to the decision-making process – to get them engaged in public life. When citizens become active, good things can happen. We all learn from each other. Initiatives get catalyzed. People become active in improving their communities, country and the world.

Global problem solving

A diverse and growing community of deep thinkers and doers believe that our current institutions for global problem solving are fundamentally and irreparably broken. The NGO sector is exploding in size and influence on the international scene and increasingly setting the agenda in areas such as human rights and the environment. Meanwhile virtual communities linking cultural and ethnic diasporas around the globe are breaking down the boundaries of geography and creating bridges based on values. These worldwide virtual communities not only provide a sense of belonging, they can become a conduit for problem solving by bringing together people who share a heritage or a worldview, but not a physical location.

The conversation was pretty exhilarating, in part because of the people sitting around each of the tables.  For example at the table discussing the newspaper was Jeff Jarvis a professor at City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, who directs its new media program.  I can’t think of anyone in the world who has done deeper research on the topic.

The ideas will be summarized and made available to Davos attendees, enroute to becoming public.  Stay tuned.

One thing for sure is there was a strong sense in the room that this is a time of very profound change and that “the new realities” are demanding new kinds of institutions.