Logo
Acronym:
WEF
Established:
Address:
Route de la Capite 91-93, CH-1223 Cologny/Geneva, Switzerland
Stakeholder group:
Civil society
Profile

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a not-for-profit foundation whose membership is composed of large corporations from around the world.

The WEF engages political, business, academic, and other leaders of society in collaborative efforts to shape global, regional, and industry agendas. Together with other stakeholders, it works to define challenges, solutions, and actions in the spirit of global citizenship. It also serves and builds sustained communities through an integrated concept of high-level meetings, research networks, task forces, and digital collaboration.

Digital Activities 

The fourth industrial revolution is one of the WEF’s key areas of work. Under this focus, it carries out a wide range of activities covering digital policy issues, from telecom infrastructure and cybersecurity to the digital economy and the future of work. It has set up multiple platforms and global fora focused on bringing together various stakeholders and initiatives to advance debates and foster co-operation on the issues explored. It also publishes reports, studies, and white papers on its focus areas, and features discussions on the policy implications of digital technologies in the framework of its annual meeting in Davos and other events organised around the world.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

The WEF’s work in the area of telecom infrastructure is broadly dedicated to shedding light on the need to advance connectivity and evolve towards new network technologies as a way to support the transition to the fourth industrial revolution. Initiatives in this area include the Global Future Council of New Network Technologies, dedicated, among others, to exploring incentives for network development, and the EDISON Initiative (Essential Digital Infrastructure & Services Network), aimed at developing strategies to achieve 75% broadband penetration before 2025. A specific focus area for the WEF is 5G: It has identified 5G as an issue of global importance and works on analysing the impacts of 5G on industry and society. The new mobile network is tackled under initiatives such as the WEF Platform on Internet of Things, Robotics and 5G, and the 5G Global Accelerator. In its report titled The Impact of 5G: Creating New Value Across Industries and Society, the WEF notes that 5G will be critical because it will enable unprecedented levels of connectivity, allowing for superfast broadband, ultra-reliable low latency communication, massive machine-type communications, and high reliability/availability and efficient energy usage, all of which will transform many sectors, such as manufacturing, transportation, public services, and health.

Artificial intelligence;

The WEF is carrying out multiple activities in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). The WEF Platform on AI and Machine Learning brings together actors from public and private sectors to co-design and test policy frameworks that accelerate the benefits and mitigate the risks of AI. Project areas include standards for protecting children, creating an ‘AI regulator for the twenty-first century’, and addressing the challenges of facial recognition technology. In addition, the WEF created a Global AI Council to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance under its Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The WEF explores issues related to AI safety, security, and standards; AI ethics and values; and machine learning and predictive systems in relation to global risks and international security. The WEF extensively publishes articles on the need to build a new social contract to ensure that technological innovation, in particular AI, is deployed safely and aligned with the ethical needs of a globalising world. It is also assisting policymakers in devising appropriate AI-related policies. For instance, it published a Framework for Developing a National Artificial Intelligence Strategy to guide governments in their efforts to elaborate strategies for the development and deployment of AI. In recent years, AI and its impact on national and international policy spaces have featured highly on the agenda of the WEF’s annual meetings in Davos.

Blockchain and cryptocurrencies 

The WEF Platform for Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) works to advance a systemic and inclusive approach to governing DLT, to ensure that everyone can benefit from these technologies. The WEF works on governance issues related to the equity, interoperability, security, transparency, and trust of DLT. It also analyses the relationship between blockchain and cybersecurity and international security, as well as the future of computing. It publishes papers on issues such as the challenges blockchain faces and its role in security. In addition, the WEF has created a Global Blockchain Council to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance under its Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The WEF is also active on issues related to digital currencies and their policy implications. In January 2020, it created a Global Consortium for Digital Currency Governance to work on designing a framework for the governance of digital currencies, including stablecoins. It aims to facilitate access to the financial system through inclusive and innovative policy solutions. Along with the launch of the consortium, the WEF published a Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Policy-Makers Toolkit, intended to serve as a possible framework to ensure that the deployment of CBDCs takes into account potential costs and benefits. 

Internet of things 

The WEF Platform on Internet of Things, Robotics and 5G works with key players from the public and private sectors to accelerate the impact of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, build trust in consumer IoT, unlock the shared value of IoT data, enable an inclusive roll-out of 5G and next-generation connectivity, and promote the responsible adoption of smart city technologies. Specifically, the WEF analyses questions of IoT and data ownership, infrastructure security, and the vulnerability of IoT to cyber-attacks. In co-operation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the WEF published a report on Realizing the Internet of Things – a Framework for Collective Action outlining five pillars for the development of IoT: architecture and standards, security and privacy, shared value creation, organisational development, and ecosystem governance. WEF also created three Global Councils related to IoT to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance: Global Internet of Things Council, Global Drones and Aerial Mobility Council, and Global Autonomous and Urban Mobility Council.

Emerging technologies 

Virtual/augmented reality. The WEF is expanding and streamlining its work on virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) by creating the Global Future Council on Virtual and Augmented Reality, which will explore and raise awareness of the positive and negative aspects of the widespread adoption of VR/AR technologies. The WEF carries out policy research and analysis related to the impact of VR/AR on the society and its security implications in publications such as the ‘Virtual Reality Discovery’ and the ‘Industry review boards are needed to protect VR user privacy’.

Quantum computing. The WEF has created the Global Future Council on Quantum Computing, through which it intends to explore computing-related trends, including new foundational technologies and techniques for centralised and distributed processing. The forum also publishes regularly on the relationship between quantum computing and cybersecurity

Robotics. Robotics is part of the WEF agenda under the Platform on Internet of Things, Robotics and 5G. The WEF analyses the impacts of advances in robotics in particular within the AI and IoT context. It works on co-designing, piloting, and scaling up the next generation of policies and protocols related to robotics. The WEF regularly publishes on issues such as the merging of human and machine approaches to cybersecurity and the role of robotics in warfare, and potential rules for future AI and robotics.The WEF has also created three global councils related to robotics to address governance gaps and to provide policy guidance: Global Internet of Things Council, Global Drones and Aerial Mobility Council, and Global Autonomous and Urban Mobility Council.

Data governance 

The WEF has established a Platform for Data Policy dedicated to maximising data use to benefit society while protecting users from risks associated with the data economy. Within this platform, the Building a Roadmap for Cross Border Data Flows project aims to support the development of cohesive policy frameworks and cross-border governance protocols, which ‘can accelerate societal benefits and minimise adverse risks of data flows’. The WEF regularly publishes reports on data governance issues such as restoring trust in data, cross-border data flows, data protection and security, among others.

E-commerce and trade 

Several activities and projects run by the WEF focus on e-commerce and broader digital economy-related issues. Under its Digital Trade initiative (part of its Shaping the Future of Trade and Global Economic Interdependence Platform), the WEF has proposed a set of digital economy policy proposals aimed at, among others, defining best practices for cross-border data flows and stimulating progress on e-commerce best practices. E-commerce is also tackled in studies, white papers, and events produced by the WEF, which address issues such as: e-commerce in emerging markets, the impact of e-commerce on prices, and digital currencies. The WEF has also established a Platform for Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation, aimed to ‘help companies leverage technology to be agile in the face of disruption and to create the new digitally enabled business models.’ Under the Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society, the WEF brings together various stakeholders to promote new approaches to competitiveness in the digital economy, with a focus on issues such as education and skills, equality and inclusion, and improved economic opportunities for people.

Future of work 

Future of work is a topic that spans across multiple WEF activities. For instance, under the Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society, several projects are run that focus on issues such as education, skills, upskilling and reskilling, and equality and inclusion in the world of work. The WEF has also launched a Reskilling Revolution Platform, aimed to contribute to providing better jobs, education, and skills to 1 billion people over a 10-year period. Initiatives under this platform include: Closing the Skills Gap Accelerators, Preparing for the Future of Work Industry Accelerators, the Promise of Platform Work, and Education 4.0, which are dedicated to ‘creating and piloting replicable models for action at the national, industry, organisational, and school levels.’

Cybercrime 

Under its Shaping the Future of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust Platform, the WEF runs the Partnership against Cybercrime project, focused on developing recommendations and frameworks to enhance co-operation in cybercrime investigations between law enforcement agencies, international organisations, cybersecurity companies, and other actors. In addition, the Future Series: Cybercrime 2025 programme has been put in place to understand how new technologies will change the cybersecurity and cybercrime landscape and how to address related challenges. Another important WEF project is the High Volume Cybercrime initiative, which explores ways in which Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and governments can take action to reduce the harm from high volume cyber-attacks. Cybercrime also constitutes the focus of various studies and articles published by the WEF, which delve into issues such as emerging threats and ways to tackle them.

Network security/critical infrastructure 

The WEF has launched a Platform for Shaping the Future of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust dedicated to ‘strengthening global collaboration to address systemic cybersecurity challenges and improve digital trust to safeguard innovation, protecting institutions, businesses and individuals.’ Multiple projects are run under this platform, such as the Future of Authentication, the Cybersecurity Learning Hub, and the Cyber Polygon. The cyber resilience of critical sectors, such as electricity, the oil and gas industry, and aviation, is also a focus area for the WEF. 

Digital identities 

Under the Shaping the Future of Digital Economy and New Value Creation platform, the WEF has established a Platform for Good Digital Identity, dedicated to fostering co-operation towards the development and deployment of digital identities that are ‘collaborative and put the user interest at the centre’. 

Digital tools

  • Strategic Intelligence: The WEF’s platform providing access to ‘transformation maps’ – mappings of ‘hundreds of global issues and their interdependencies’.
  • Several online events have been organised recently, but it is not clear what platform has been used, in addition to the usual webcast that can be followed on the WEF website.
  • The WEF has an interesting practice of ‘live blogging’ from its events.
  • It uses social media extensively, with smartly designed campaigns.