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The seven principles for a global 're-boot'

Written by Simon Maxwell

The World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda  has just ended in Dubai – a gathering of 700 people for what was described as the biggest brainstorming on global issues in the history of the world, or alternatively, as an unprecedented exercise in 'collective intelligence'. The 'biggest brainstorming' is an interesting claim. I must look up the Council of Ephesus or the Congress of Berlin.

By both luck and judgement, the meeting was well-timed to contextualise current crises and look ahead. The big debates were on this being a time of great risk, but also an opportunity to get things right – on finance, of course, but also climate, ecology, social welfare and global governance. There was much talk of ‘re-booting’ world systems, ranging from better regulation to more collective action, and from green growth to better global leadership.

There are 68 Global Agenda councils on everything from the financial system to nanotechnology and the geography of innovation. I chair the council on humanitarian issues – the only one that touches on poverty, vulnerability and human development. My main concern in Dubai was to make sure that we were explicit about what kind of world we want to reboot to, i.e. the principles that would underpin principled policy-making. I wanted to ensure that human development goals, rights and inequality were fully reflected in the discussion, and stressed the seven principles developed earlier this year by a group of us working on a possible European equivalent of the World Development report:  

  • Democracy and the rule of law are the norm;
  • Human rights are respected;
  • Individuals are able to maximise their capabilities and potential;
  • Excessive inequalities are addressed;
  • The environment is protected;
  • Governance is effective and transparent at all levels; and
  • There is a high degree of accountability.


We talked about humanitarian issues, but also about wider vulnerabilities, and about how the two could be linked without sacrificing humanitarian principles. We made strong links to the councils on fragile states, food security and water, among others. From previous conversations and a quick survey of council members, we established that most people thought the humanitarian case-load would rise but with a bigger share of that workload driven by natural disasters and a bigger role for governments rather than aid agencies.

Josette Sheeran, Director-General of the World Food Programme, who chairs the food security council, observed that the lack of non-earmarked multi-year pledges increases procurement costs by 20% (e.g. because WFP has to use spot markets and can’t use forward markets), even though donors must know that WFP will always needs some resources somewhere every year.

In a wider cluster, we discussed ecology and climate change, as well as sustainable cities, the built environment, mining, and other hot topics. Climate change dominated, not surprisingly.  A senior mining official said that mining companies are hedging against future pricing of carbon by shadow pricing carbon at $100/t, which is 5-10 times the price in the European Emission Trading Scheme (ETS).

There were lots of good ideas circulating in Dubai, so the potential is there to make some real changes. In the next stage, it seems to me that we’re going to have to build on this innovative gathering by moving from ‘breakthrough ideas’ to 'breakthrough solutions' and 'breakthrough actions'.