World Economic Forum

How we can make change for better

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 February, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 February, 1994, 12:00am

EVERY year during the last week of January, politicians and leading businessmen meet at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland. This year's theme was ''Redefining the basic assumptions of the world economy''.

The Forum's organisers believed that ''the new assumptions were not the result of some external mechanism'' but were ''shaped by the actors themselves''. And the goal must be ''to create change with added value . . . a change where mankind is better off afterward''.

Among the businessmen who paid substantial sums to attend, the Forum invited leaders from the fields of science, the media and the arts to join in the deliberation. In order to redefine assumptions about the world, politicians and businessmen need to better understand the changing assumptions that are taking place in other fields.

The Forum also invited a range of people under the age of 43 who were regarded by the Forum as having achieved some influence and responsibility in their respective countries and who have demonstrated a commitment to public affairs. The visions of a younger group were thought to be important to the Forum.

I attended the brainstorming session for the younger participants. We were randomly divided into 10 groups of about eight. My group had two women and six men. We came from South Africa, Mexico, Finland, Australia, the US and Hong Kong. Our backgrounds covered business, politics, the environment, health care and the media.

Each group was given an hour to put together a three-minute summary of what it thought were the basic assumptions in the world which required redefinition. This was the statement from my group: ''We believe the concept and the workings of 'government' need to be redefined. There is a widespread impression that governments around the world appear to be collapsing, either because of changing ideology and/or governments are seen as lacklustre and inefficient.

''We believe that 'government' and 'politics' are important to society. We do not wish to see these concepts marginalised, or worse still, be regarded as unimportant.

''In redefining the concept of government, and to ensure good government, we need to ask what activities are within the proper province of government. This will entail a re-examination of the relationship between the state and the individual.

''We believe that in considering public policy, both on national and international levels, there are certain basic principles governments should abide by: policies should ensure and reinforce the equality of opportunities for all. Therefore, policies should be inclusionary and not exclusionary.

''For example, we recognise that there is a global explosion of information of all types, and advances in communication technology are being made constantly. Governments should ensure that, at a minimum, information held by public agencies should be available cheaply and efficiently to all citizens.

''We believe in the value of education. We urge our governments to put much more resources towards achieving national education systems which should not only ensure that their citizens become economically competitive in the global markets, but also that the education which they receive have a strong inclusive ethical base in the broadest sense.

''Governments will need to redefine the concept of national sovereignty. There are global problems which require global debate, global solutions and global enforcement. The environment and human rights are two obvious examples.

''To create good government, we believe there must be a re-examination of the roles of central and provincial authorities. Decentralising the decision-making process could result in better allocation of limited national resources, leading to great overall efficiently.

''We also believe that there is a responsibility for each citizen to take personal action for a better society and a better world. That is why we highlight the importance of education. We should each be responsible for creating a healthier society. We should each be willing to contribute.'' Although members of the group came from diverse backgrounds, they nevertheless shared the same ideals. Politics was regarded as a noble business from which important decisions affecting our lives were made. Involvement, not indifference, is the only solution to national and international problems.