Klaus Schwab On Bretton Woods

Many articles have been written in the past few weeks about the need to reform international-governance organizations like the United Nations, Bretton Woods and the G8. The general idea has been that if such organizations had worked better, the financial crisis would have been averted. While it is obvious that 21st-century economic and political challenges cannot be adequately handled by institutions set up for a post-WWII world, the proposals put forth so far are still too stuck in traditional thinking.

First, we need to realize that today's world is far more Asian and more African than the one that gave birth to these institutions. It is also a young world, with a median age of 28 years and new paradigms of virtual communication that reach across space and time. It is more complex, much more integrated, and bottom up rather than top down. And, above all, this new world is so interdependent that solutions for global problems require true global trusteeship. This means that the old ways of multilateral negotiation, which are based on defending national interests, are simply no longer adequate for addressing the problems of this rapidly changing world.

What we need now is an entirely new global-cooperation system that capitalizes on technology, diversity and trust.

First, we need to depoliticize international problems by creating a Global Agenda Council for each major world challenge (such as financial security, climate change and global governance). These councils would be made up of the experts around the world—scientists, economists, artists, academics, business leaders—who are most knowledgeable in each problem area. They would be selected by peer review, not on political considerations. The councils would interact regularly, give a continuous assessment of the situation and provide early warnings about emergencies that might be brewing (a coming plague or a likely area of financial meltdown), but also come up with longer-term solutions. They would not replace existing governance structures, but would support and advise them.

At the World Economic Forum, we have identified more than 50 key global challenges. Assuming that the ideal size of such a council is about 20 experts, the world could rely on a network of around 1,000 Global Agenda "trustees" to become a kind of brain trust for solving major international problems. The group would be highly integrated—for example, the global climate-change group would interact with groups in charge of water or of energy security or of Africa. The power of this new idea is exemplified by the fact that more than 700 global experts will come together at a WEF Summit on the Global Agenda in Dubai Nov. 7–9.

Technology—and in particular, new social-networking technology à la Facebook—will play an important part in the problem solving. Why not establish a global virtual community of those who really shape the big decisions? Indeed, the World Economic Forum has been working in partnership with some of the world's leading technology companies for nearly two years to design such a system, which will be presented to global leaders at Davos next year. Such a virtual, Web 2.0-based global community will develop its own life and identity, transcending national, religious and ethnic barriers to become a true force of global cooperation. Many such informal networks are already in place. Their efficiency could be substantially increased if they were all integrated into one comprehensive global platform allowing each of those networks, if necessary, to interact with others and to be truly systemic.

In addition to 24/7 virtual problem solving, we need new forums in which people can physically meet. Face-to-face interaction is still paramount. We need moments where we pause, where we step outside our traditional paths, where we try to connect the dots. These meetings should integrate more young and unusual voices—people from business and politics, of course, but also religion, nonprofits, social ventures, etc. Creating such a talent "commons" would increase trust and cooperation among diverse groups of people, something that's essential to 21st-century problem solving.

Even if such new channels of communication were in place, however, there's still a need to reform the old. Nation-states will play a central role in government for some time to come, and thus it's important to continue to think about new shapes for groups like the United Nations, the Bretton Woods organizations, the G8 and the G20. They must adapt to preserve their utility and legitimacy. In fact, they should work to integrate their own operations and decision making with the groups mentioned above. This will help them to transcend reactive, one dimensional thinking. It is only through these sorts of really profound global partnerships that we can help avert chaos— economic and political—in the future.