The world seems to have lost the capability to make grand-scale changes. A new equitable global trade regime, a multilateral climate change agreement, reform of the UN Security Council and government bureaucracies, and the prevailing capitalist models might not happen in our lifetime.

One of the key trends of the last few decades has been the total reshaping of the global landscape with the emergence of a multitude of actors with diverging interests and agendas. In the last 60 years, the number of countries has increased from 105 to 195 and international NGOs from about 1,000 to 20,000-30,000. And, in the past 20 years multinational companies have jumped from 3,000 to 80,000.

Among all these new actors, corporations are enjoying unprecedented power. According to research by the Institute of Policy Studies, of the 100 largest economies in 2000, 51 were corporations and only 49 were countries (based on a comparison of corporate sales and country GDPs). The number, size and geographical spread of corporations continue to grow. In the current economic crisis, many companies have shown higher resilience than their home governments.

Most importantly, the current institutions have been losing the trust of the population. The annual “Trust Barometer” survey, released by Edelman in January 2012, showed that overall trust in key institutions, government, business, NGOs and the media, has declined except for the media. For the first time, trust in government fell into the last place. Dwindling trust in government is evident even in countries like China where the saving rate remains high because the population doubts the prospects of future state social protection.

“We need to start working together” was the phrase I heard often in Davos this year. Hope is bestowed on NGOs, the private sector and private-public collaboration in addressing the failures of the states to provide for the basic societal needs. Charitable foundations, philanthropic organizations and social impact investors have donated an unprecedented amount of resources to social causes last year, estimated at several trillion US dollars.

The scale and impact of these interventions are however far from sufficient to meet the existing needs of the poorest in food, water, security, health and education, as well as to address the deterioration of environment and depletion of natural resources.

For me, this is the key question of our times. Given the impotence of global and national institutions, how can small-scale solutions that work and have concrete impact on the ground be dramatically multiplied and scaled up? 

This requires a citizen revolution. Conditions need be created to make it extremely easy to attract capital and create numerous new types of sustainable enterprises addressing social needs, creating employment, cherishing values-based behaviour and responsible consumption.  

As many other citizens of the world, I have lost trust in the institutions. The capital and young entrepreneurs have to come together to address the staggering needs of our times. Maybe then the institutional dinosaurs will follow and adapt if they do not want to become sidelined by history. We are just at the very beginning of this transformational process.

Oksana Myshlovska, Associate Director, Global Agenda Councils

Picture: A boy stands next to a tree in Barmil in this recently taken handout photo released on July 21, 2011. A wide swathe of east Africa, including Kenya and Ethiopia, has been hit by years of severe drought and the United Nations says two regions of southern Somalia are suffering the worst famine for 20 years, with 3.7 million people facing starvation. In the village of Barmil, people wait for water because their wells are dry. They are dependent on donations and a water truck which comes and fills the town water tank up. Many walk 6 hours each way to fetch water. REUTERS/Jakob Dall/Danish Red Cross/Handout