Business professionals walking around outdoor office space with trees | World Economic Forum
Article | Innovation

World Economic Forum 2023 Davos annual meeting highlights

The news was full of headlines and articles in the weeks after this year's World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting in Davos. The event inspires mixed opinions and sentiment around this event, but regardless of where one stands on the event itself, it is universally acknowledged the event offers a glimpse into key topics that may affect organizations in the near future.

What is “Davos” and why does it matter?

The WEF is a Swiss-based not-for-profit organization established in 1971. As an independent organization, WEF brings a multistakeholder point of view by engaging political, business, cultural and societal leaders to shape global, regional and industry agendas. As part of its mission, WEF believes “progress happens by bringing together people from all walks of life who have the drive and the influence to make positive change.”

One of the primary ways the WEF achieves this is by holding four annual meetings, the first of which takes place in Davos Klosters, Switzerland, and is often referred to simply as “Davos.” This year’s meeting took place Jan. 16-20, 2023, and had a record attendance of over 2,600 leaders. It included more than 300 sessions on various topics such as the climate and energy crisis, emerging technologies, and predictions for a global recession and the future of work.

Davos has a reputation for affirming trends and providing insightful information on present and future developments, specific to evolving industries, innovative topics and environmental, social and governance (ESG) initiatives. Organizations can gather insight and action steps for how to strategically prepare and adapt for the future.

The future focus: Innovation and technology

As the 2023 WEF got underway, discussions focused on the global economy, climate change and the conflict in Ukraine. However, by the end of the forum, the digital economy and the rapid technological advancements of the past six months had taken center stage. This shift was driven by the pace at which the digital ecosystem is introducing new technologies, causing world leaders to place a strategic emphasis on these advancements for the future growth of their businesses. The chart below illustrates how industry leaders of high-innovation countries (the United States, China, Japan, Germany and South Korea) view artificial intelligence (AI) as the highest-priority technology for the next decade.

Top ten technologies of strategic importance in five high-innovation economies

To learn more, the entire Markets of Tomorrow Report 2023 provides in-depth insights into each subcategory. 

The digital decade

As global digitization rapidly progresses, Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF, describes this acceleration of technology as the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This revolution underpins AI, robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), quantum computing and their associated segments as the catalysts for the future of technological innovation. Davos spotlighted the digital economy by presenting both short-term technological innovations and long-term strategies with the potential to revolutionize the digital landscape for years to come, some of which are highlighted below:

  • Quantum computing: Despite being in its infancy in terms of technology, quantum computing holds the promise of revolutionizing the future of computing through its utilization of subatomic particles for innovative information processing and storage methods.
  • Artificial intelligence: The emergence of ChatGPT and the influx of competitors entering the market has sparked significant attention to AI. As spending is set to surpass a projected $500 billion in 2023, advancements in this field are expected to accelerate at a rapid pace.
  • Digital assets: Central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) are anticipated to reach a fever pitch in 2023, with more than 100 countries in development stages. However, questions of blockchain interoperability and design are looming for decision-makers.
  • Industrial metaverse: The necessary components for industrial solutions in the metaverse, including digital twins, IoT, AI, cloud and edge computing, blockchain, extended reality and complementary systems such as robotics and 5G networks, are already available. However, the process of aligning on a shared vision of a road map for implementation is ongoing.
  • Digital acceleration: Digital transformation is often long and all-encompassing. Digital acceleration cuts through red tape and delivers innovation with a tangible approach.

ESG as a major focus

Each year, the WEF releases a global risk report ahead of the Davos meeting. There is usually a strong correlation between top risks and agenda topics and this year was no exception. More than half of the top 10 short- and long-term risks are environmentally related, with social issues as the next highest category. A few of the key highlights:

  • The era of the “polycrisis”: As we live in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, so too do our most pressing issues become interrelated. The concept of the “polycrisis” illustrates the compounding effects of the world’s top risks including the connection between the war in Ukraine, increasing cost of living, social unrest and climate disasters. Leaders at the WEF expressed the necessity to balance short-term risks without losing sight of longer-term solutions that require investment now.
  • Launch of Giving to Amplify Earth Action (GAEA) initiative: The WEF along with 45 public, private and philanthropic partners are coming together to unlock $3 trillion of financing annually to help reach net zero, reverse nature loss and restore biodiversity by 2050.
  • Climate action and energy transition as a “team sport”: With a record number of sessions at the forum related to climate action and energy transition, one message became clear: We are all in this battle together. We will win together or lose together, and the pressure is on. In order to make the required energy transition, we need sustainable, secure systems on a global front including in developing countries. Leaders cited things like technology investments, circular economy innovation and legislation such as the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act as key elements to mitigating the risks.

Looking forward

The 2023 World Economic Forum meeting provided significant insight into how leaders worldwide view matters surrounding technological innovation and ESG. Through the discussions at Davos, organizations can garner insights on emerging and future themes that warrant thoughtful consideration. Organizations can remain watchful for additional thought leadership to prepare for coming developments that could present both risks and opportunities for their organization.

Team members work together on technology innovation

Innovation culture

Keeping a pulse on current and emerging trends helps us navigate the potential impacts and opportunities for our clients and our firm. 

diverse group of coworkers
Next up

Three ways internal audit can outmaneuver the talent problem – and win