The Optimist's Playbook
TIME Magazine|February 04 - 11, 2019
The Optimist's Playbook

Davos summit founder Klaus Schwab on a game plan for confronting nationalism, inequality and the fourth industrial revolution.

Haley Sweetland Edwards

WHEN KLAUS SCHWAB, THE founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, hosted the first summit in Davos in 1971, the global community was on the precipice of profound change. Mass poverty was endemic, computers were the size of Xerox machines, and globalization was still a theory taught to economics students.

Forty-eight years on, the world is utterly transformed. Extreme poverty has halved over five decades, roughly 2.5 billion of us now carry supercomputers in our pockets, and globalization has become the bedrock of the modern economy. But once again, we are facing a period of tumultuous change. In the coming years, the 80-year-old Schwab predicts, our planet will undergo what he calls the fourth industrial revolution: an era of rapid innovation catalyzed by automation, artificial intelligence and other technological advances.

In December, Schwab sat down with TIME ahead of this year’s WEF summit to discuss the unique suite of challenges facing the world today:

TIME: In the 1970s, you helped develop the multistakeholder concept: the idea that business must serve not only shareholders but everyone with a stake in the company. Does that idea still have merit today?

SCHWAB: Well, today I see the stakeholder concept applied on a global level. The big issues in the world, like climate change, cannot be solved by governments alone. We need new technologies, so business has a role to play. Civil society has a big role to play. We are all stakeholders in our global future. And the World Economic Forum acts as a kind of catalyst for this process.

That requires collaboration, at a time of shattered alliances, rising misinformation and bitterly divided politics. How can you look at the current state of the globe and feel hope?

We are faced with tremendous change, but change has to be shaped—and it has to be shaped by human beings, by policymakers, by the people. I would call the phase we are in innovative destruction, or perhaps destructive innovation. When you focus on the destructive part, it can make you pessimistic. What we try to do is see the innovative part.


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February 04 - 11, 2019