The World Economic Forum (WEF) returned to the Swiss Alps for 2023, bringing together heads of states, business leaders and civil society advocates to address pressing crises and tackle global challenges. Back in person for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global event tackled a broad range of issues from human rights to the risks associated with a global recession.

WEF often presents an opportunity to tackle global issues from a diverse yet unified front; supporting collaboration to promote sustainable industries, nations and societies. The Forum acknowledges the systemic nature of the world’s current problems, and the need for dynamic and sustainable solutions. 

This year’s event focussed on ‘cooperation in a fragmented world’, drawing attention to the major shift experienced in international political, economic and social relationships following the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The agenda prioritised five key areas of concern for the coming year:

  1. 1. Global energy and food crises
  2. 2. Addressing the risk of recession
  3. 3. Private sector innovation and resilience
  4. 4. Upholding civil freedoms and human rights
  5. 5. Geopolitical risks in a globalised world

Global energy and food crises

A cost of living crisis has affected people around the world, with the cost of food and energy rising while wages stagnate, resulting in increased poverty and social unrest. These rising costs disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities and low-income nations, with such nations experiencing a food price inflation of 29% compared to the global average of 19%.

This is contributing to the number of people facing food insecurity and famine across the globe, which will only rise if cost of living pressures increase. These pressures are closely tied to the growing effects of climate change, and the WEF argues that “with a global energy transition underway, further action is needed to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change”.

Addressing the risk of recession

WEF’s Chief Economists Outlook predicts that the risk of a global recession will remain high throughout 2023 as a result of culminating pressures from rising inflation, geopolitical tensions and higher input costs. It suggests the “high inflation, low growth, high debt economy” we have seen over the past few years will lead to a reduction in global GDP growth, not seen since the Global Financial Crisis.

Different regions have varying levels of risk of recession, with Europe and North America predicted to be at the top end of the scale, while South Asia and MENA are predicted to have little to no risk of recession. 

Despite these projections, they are faintly optimistic that towards the end of the year pressures from inflation will begin to drop off, and consumer sentiment will gradually improve. 

Private sector innovation and resilience

With many suggesting a fourth industrial revolution is looming, industries are moving towards new technologies in order to maintain competitiveness and agility in a quickly developing field. Ensuring industry resilience is essential for businesses in 2023, and can only be achieved through embracing sustainable energy and new technologies such as AI.

Upholding civil freedoms and human rights

Civil society leaders from NGOs, social enterprises, unions, indigenous communities and religious groups were in attendance at WEF representing the increasing demand for corporate social responsibility across all industries, and ensuring that human rights are at the forefront of global leaders’ minds. 

With discussions held on LGBTQ resilience, gender parity for economic recovery and closing the disability inclusion gap, there was a distinct focus on how businesses and human rights could work hand-in-hand to build a more sustainable and prosperous future. 

Geopolitical risks in a globalised world

Russia’s war on Ukraine was an unprecedented development in 2022, and as it continues into 2023 world leaders are forced to tackle the immense repercussions it is having on global economic outcomes.

With trade deals being used to influence nations who are operating against the global majority, geopolitics and global economies are increasingly intertwined. A strong focus of this year’s Forum was strengthening resilience and leadership in order to better navigate rapidly changing global dynamics.

While the goals and aims of WEF 2023 seemed well-intentioned, the event has not been without its critics. For instance, many have raised the perceived hypocrisy of world leaders arriving on private jets to discuss the detrimental effects of climate change. Time will tell if the discussions had at this year’s Forum will lead to tangible change, and real progress towards cooperation in a fragmented world.


Alessa Dever is a Partnership Associate with IEP

Alessa Dever

Communications Associate at IEP

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