How can new business ideas be made to benefit people as well as profit margins? At the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, one of the central themes will be the question of how to sustain a world of 9 billion people: how to feed, house and employ such a vast population in the face of dwindling resources and escalating climate change. We can no longer rely on traditional solutions; we need future-focused thinkers to come up with new plans.

At the World Economic Forum, a community of Young Global Leaders – a group of more than 900 people under the age of 40, from all over the world, across private and public sectors – has spent a large part of 2013 developing ideas that can effect large-scale, lasting change. We take a look at some of the highlights of their work: 13 ideas that can contribute to sustainable growth, from creating jobs for young people to safeguarding the environment.

1. Education as a tool for empowerment

Why are so many countries opposed to a free-flowing labour force, when the elimination of immigration controls could add 5-15% to the world’s income? Columbia Law School’s Anu Bradford has shown how countries can facilitate free migration by looking at the downsides of “undesirable migration” and introducing the idea of a migration fund in which “reversible bonds” would act as a form of insurance policy, replacing quotas and desirability screenings.

For example, if a US company wanted to hire a worker from Colombia, a bond could be posted to cover any potential costs to the state (such as welfare benefits, should the worker later become unemployed). In the event of the worker keeping their job for a specified time period, the bond would be divided between the company and the Colombian government.

2. Sleeping giant: the physical inactivity crisis

How can society promote physical well-being in an age of digital dependency and ever-increasing connectivity? Lisa MacCallum of Nike believes early positive experiences with physical activity – as well as integrating activity and play into everyday life – can help break the cycle. In the past year, as part of Nike’s Designed to Move scheme, MacCallum has led the introduction of a number of activity initiatives around the world. These include an Active School initiative in the US (in collaboration with Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! organization), a cross-party parliamentary commission in the UK to safeguard funding for sports and physical activity, and ensuring commitment to localized action in Brazil.

3. The brand new climate industry

The market for environmental protection is thought to be worth as much as US$10 billion. In the next 20 years this could generate as many as 500 million new jobs around the world – mostly in small-scale farming. Tristan Lecomte, head of Pur Projet in France, has developed a process that works towards this goal, partnering farmers with businesses in forest conservation and agroforestry, the practice of planting trees among other crops to boost the biodiversity and productivity of the land.

4. Unemployed or unemployable

Both private and public sectors have an interest in creating sustainable incomes, but how can they go about it? What’s needed is the dissemination of more vocational skills, argues Sandeep Naik, Managing Director of General Atlantic in India. Naik believes that in order to raise more people up to the level of employability, the private sector must focus on developing entrepreneurial skills and government programmes should work on scaling them up.

5. The Enterprise Credit System

Ashish Thakkar suggests a social movement and watchdog monitoring system, which he calls the Enterprise Credit System, in which large and multinational corporations are required to designate a percentage of their annual procurement of goods and services with small-to-medium enterprises. This could ensure that certified, indigenous SMEs have ample demand from large companies and can sustain the extra jobs that this creates. Thakkar is the founder and Managing Director of Mara Group in the United Arab Emirates.

6. Skills development for the unemployed

Applying for a job can be a brutal process for young people and graduates, especially when you consider how little control they have and how little information they are given about the employer. Enter Rajeeb Dey, Chief Executive Officer of Enternships.com in the UK, who has hit upon a way for business owners to support rejected job seekers. Called UnRecruitment, it takes a constructive approach to the interview process, assessing candidates at the same time as providing them with skills and personality training.

 7. Ability in disability

One in every 88 people has autism, a condition associated with limited language and social skills. VR Ferose of SAP Labs India, a multinational organization that designs software solutions for businesses, has been working on a way to integrate people with autism into the workforce. The trick lies in seeing the condition as a competitive advantage rather than a handicap, Ferose says. People with certain types of autism have unusually good memories and can repeat tasks over and over again – skills that are ideal for complex product testing. SAP says it aims to source 1% of its workforce from the autism spectrum by 2020.

 8. Flex Work Options

When highly qualified women are not integrated into the paid work force, their potential goes untapped. The answer is to create a new model for workplace flexibility. Geraldine Chin Moody, of UN Women Australia, is working to create an online marketplace for highly qualified part-time experts, whom she calls “flexperts”. The concept would help employers find highly qualified talent – of both sexes – and create ways for workers to stay connected and build experience.

9. Aging societies and economic growth

Entrepreneurship is often associated with youth, and yet many countries possess a predominantly aging work force. Daisuke Iwase, head of Japan’s Lifenet Insurance Company, has shown how getting young people to team up with experienced or retired workers can be a win-win solution. Older workers benefit by feeling useful and earning an income to sustain them in retirement, and businesses benefit by not losing precious expertise too soon.

10. Enhancing innovation by talent acquisition

What is one of the major factors stalling the growth of an organization? David Boehmer, of financial services practice Heidrick & Struggles, argues that it’s the company’s inability to recognize and harness new talent. Creative people dismissed as “outsiders” can inject fresh, innovative ideas and lead to unexpected growth, Boehmer explains. Meanwhile, cross-collaboration can be maximized in such a way that big corporations and growing businesses can keep innovating without interruption.

11. The massive opportunity for non-bank lenders

Did you think only banking institutions could be big-time lenders? Think again: Tadhg Flood of Deutsche Bank in the UK suggests that there is nothing stopping European companies from trying their hand at finance. It’s something that could lead to all sorts of financial mechanisms, such as peer-to-peer lending, retail bonds and municipal bonds.

12. Education by museums

Is art truly democratic? At a time when creativity is being prized more highly than ever, our institutions are in crisis. The traditional museum model is collapsing and, unless it evolves fast, may soon become a place where art goes to die. Yana Peel, of Intelligence Squared, Hong Kong SAR, proposes that museums take a more active role in making arts education available to all, promoting creativity and economic opportunity in the process.

13. Networked technology

Bright Simons is President of mPedigree Network in Ghana, a social enterprise that has addressed the problem of fake medicines in Africa by devising a simple technical innovation. Consumers can now verify the authenticity of their drugs via a text message on their own mobile phones. Because social entrepreneurship is based on a deep understanding of how a business idea can serve the public good, and is continually adapting and re-inventing itself to further that cause, Simons believes it is a valuable source of new industries and jobs. He urges every company to find its own “social enterprise engine”.

Author: Miniya Chatterji is a Senior Community Manager for the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. The World Economic Forzum’s Annual Meeting 2014 will take place in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland from 22-25 January under the theme The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.

Image: Students attend a class at a school in Pachacutec shanty town northern Lima REUTERS/Mariana Bazo