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War and global challenges overshadow Davos

Russia's war in Ukraine and a daunting set of global challenges cast a long shadow over WEF's gathering of political and business elites at this Swiss resort.

Ukrainians speak with WEF President Børge Brende at a panel discussion
Ukrainians Yevheniia Kravchuk, left, and Yuliia Svyrydenko, center, speak with WEF President Børge Brende, right, at a panel discussion about Ukrainians' resilience during wartime (AN/WEF)

DAVOS, Switzerland (AN) — Russia's war in Ukraine and a daunting set of global challenges dominated the World Economic Forum's gathering of political and business elites at this Swiss resort.

The COVID-19 pandemic, conflict, hunger, climate change, inflation, energy supplies, autocracy, and inequality all featured over four days filled with more than 250 panel discussions among 2,500 people, including 50 heads of state, and their private meetings and side events.

New initiatives were announced on everything from decarbonization to inclusion, but it was less clear what concrete actions might result.

It is no coincidence that WEF, responding to growing anti-elitist sentiment, is now a proponent of stakeholder capitalism, the idea that companies must create societal value beyond profits.

"Doing good means good business," said Natalie Pierce, head of WEF's Global Shapers Community, a network of 10,000 youth among 149 nations, at a press conference to announce a new program for people with disabilities. Damon Jones, Procter & Gamble's chief communications officer, noted "lots of conversations here at Davos over the past week really about the war for talent."

Ahead of the WEF meeting, dozens of anti-capitalist protesters marched with a “Smash WEF” banner in Zurich. Police used pepper spray and rubber pellets to break them up. Over the past five years, more than 230 significant anti-government protests have erupted in 110 nations, many directed at authoritarian regimes and widening inequalities between rich and poor made worse by the pandemic.

An 'abruptly' changed world

Around Davos, climate activists held banners demanding urgent, concrete action. Instead of the traditional "Russia House" offering vodka and caviar, the WEF gathering's side events boasted a "Russia War Crimes House" and "Ukraine House Davos."

On the global stage, the gathering drew to a close on Thursday with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's appeal for more international cooperation and less nationalism, imperialism and war.

"Russia's invasion of Ukraine does not mark the outbreak of some little conflict somewhere in Europe. A major nuclear power is behaving as if it had the right to redraw borders," said Scholz. Russian President Vladimir Putin, he added, "wants a return to a world order in which strength dictates what is right, in which freedom, sovereignty and self-determination are simply not for everyone."

German-born economist and engineer Klaus Schwab, who founded the Davos forum in 1971, said as he introduced Scholz that "we gather here at a critical moment as we've seen throughout the many discussions this week. It is a critical moment for Europe and the international community. Following the Russian aggression against Ukraine, the world has changed abruptly."