The World Economic Forum, along with the Harvard International Negotiation Program, conducted a “soft launch” of the world’s first Global Curriculum on Conflict Management for current and future leaders during the Davos Annual Meeting 2012. This curriculum combines innovative negotiation frameworks with firsthand accounts of senior leadership who have negotiated serious international conflicts. Cases have been contributed by Tony Blair, Bertie Ahern, Morgan Tsvangirai, Benita Diop and other senior global leaders, who discuss a negotiation dilemma they have experienced and reflect on what they learned through the process. 

This Global Curriculum responds to a growing consensus among leadership here in Davos and beyond that there is a need for new and better ways to deal with conflict in our world. These leaders are right. Destructive conflict is a huge cost in nearly every aspect of life. It contributes to millions of lost lives, trillions of lost dollars, lost business opportunities, the spread of disease, the collapse of educational systems, hindered development efforts and destabilization of the rule of law. 

Dealing with conflict constructively is both a human and business concern. I’ve talked to many leaders here in Davos who have voiced the critical importance – in fact, the urgency – to take measures to prevent destructive conflict. And these voices are not only from the government and NGO world. Chief executives from major companies have talked of conflict prevention as an “insurance policy” against economic instability. After all, destructive conflict, combined with global interdependence, threatens market stability and, ultimately, tends to make for less predictable investments. 

So our Global Curriculum on Conflict Management aims to equip current and future leadership with a common set of frameworks, tools and processes to deal with differences more constructively. In a stage-wise process, we are refining the curriculum and planning its global roll-out to senior government and business leadership. We also plan to spread the curriculum to university students, many of whom will be the future leaders of our world. 

Our long-term vision is to spread this curriculum to youth around the world. My personal hope is that within the next decade this curriculum – or a culturally and contextually adapted version of it – will be in every school around the world, so that youth have a common set of skills to turn conflict from an obstacle to an opportunity.  

Perhaps destructive conflict is a part of our human nature, but so is the desire for connection and collaboration. This curriculum aims to reinforce that latter need, with the hope of bringing our world one step closer to a global peace.

Daniel L. Shapiro, PhD, is Founder and Director of the Harvard International Negotiation Program. He served for three years as Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Conflict Prevention and currently serves as the Council’s Vice-Chair.

Pictured: Daniel Shapiro and participants at a workshop at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa