by Michele Petochi

The Forum has a unique capacity for connecting the dots, triggering debate and surfacing approaches and solutions to problems. Such capacity is strong for many reasons: the level of the leaders we convene, the diversity of views we aggregate around the issues we address, the formats we create, the serendipity and learning our participants turn into opportunities and partnerships. Moreover, we feed our activities through expertise on a significant scale.

All these ingredients come together to create the “spirit of Davos” we are famous and respected for. We thought: why not recreate that spirit in the best universities – on campus – immersing the leaders of tomorrow and their faculties into a Davos environment and offering the “Davos infrastructure” to them as a unique vehicle of dialogue? Why not start with one of the best universities? On 14 October, we had the privilege of testing the first “Davos” programme at Harvard. The result: a lot of energy, a lot of great preparation, a lot of insights and lessons learned for the professors involved, for the students and for us! It was definitely a model to scale up. Here is what some of the Faculty members involved had to say:

“Use of spatial language superimposed on global issues will introduce dimensional vision, scalar relationships, and an understanding of sequence and time frame,” said Toshiko Mori, Robert P. Hubbard Professor in the Practice of Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and organizer of the conference.

David Kennedy, Director, Institute for Global Law and Policy, Harvard Law School:
“The World Economic Forum brought the Harvard community together to discuss world issues across many disciplines. In this experiment, we ourselves saw the difficulty but also necessity for such dialogue. With abundant externalities from pollution to war, global governance is a current and significant topic for discussion.”

Richard Cooper, Professor of International Economics, Harvard University:
“With the last global financial crisis, the international monetary system received a lot of criticism and pressure to reform … The objective of the World Economic Forum through the Global Agenda Councils was to create concrete, imaginative and actionable proposals to address the most pressing issues related to the international monetary system.”

David Bloom, Clarence James Gamble Professor of Economics and Demography, Harvard School of Public Health:
“It is important not to fixate on an issue from one perspective, thereby creating blind spots, but rather to investigate a myriad of options, generating a portfolio of solutions. This interdisciplinary effort stressed the need for communication and collaboration across the academic spectrum to design solutions for future challenges today.”

Rakesh Khurana, Professor, Harvard Business School:
“The university setting for this seminar was great for discussing the degree to which the university is increasingly failing to serve the needs of our society versus the needs of our markets. Is it enough to meet the needs of today and ignore the quickly changing global world that requires flexibility, creativity, and innovative thinking?”

Robert Lawrence, Albert L. Williams Professor of Trade and Investment, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University:
“My conversation with students emphasized the need for effective global governance, the need to consider the changing landscape of the space of trade and the limitation of the coded language we use when discussing issues of trade. Trade will continue to be an important topic both for our generation and generations to come.”

Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean, Harvard University Graduate School of Design:
“Values are the ethics of practice and thereby influence our daily lives. Issues arise every day that must be dealt with, but perhaps it is this that is the problem. We must set up an aesthetic of values that will not be a reactionary force but a pre-emptive one.”

Read about the event in the Harvard Gazette.

Editor's note: Michele Petochi is Director of the Forum’s University Community.