What is the World Economic Forum?

Think of a rich man's clubhouse perched on a mountainside in the Swiss Alps. The World Economic Forum, founded by Geneva-based entrepreneur Klaus Schwab, holds an economic summit every year in the Swiss ski resort of Davos. These meetings have become the ultimate economic and political “schmooze-fest” Business leaders and politicians from prime ministers to party chairmen — and interested celebrities such as Angelina Jolie, Bono, and Sharon Stone — gather every winter at the WEF's “informal” summit to try to solve the world's major social and economic problems. Antiglobalization demonstrators often try to crash the party but are held at bay by heavily armed military and police forces. In an effort to make the Davos summits more egalitarian, the WEF has begun inviting international aid organizations and NGOs such as Amnesty International, Oxfam, and Save the Children. An alternative summit, called the World Social Forum, which generally coincides with the WEF forum in Davos, usually holds an annual meeting as well, to discuss world issues in a less capitalist setting.

The United Nations also provides an important forum for solving crises and encouraging economic cooperation around the world. It is estimated that the United Nations and its agencies spend more time on economics and economic development than any other issue on their agenda. To confront the crisis of global warming, for example, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) instituted a program to finance energy efficiency and antipollution programs in developing countries. This adaptation fund provides money for a wide range of climate change projects.

Most world leaders have come to realize that the world's economic problems are, in fact, inseparable from political and military conflicts. The World Bank, for example, has estimated that the majority of civil wars that have taken place over the last half century were — at least in part — motivated by access to commodities like oil, diamonds, and drugs. In the future, it is increasingly possible that wars may be fought for the most basic of economic necessities such as food and water.

In the end, the resolution of most international issues, such as credit crises, global warming, trade imbalances, and access to the world's resources, will depend on countries working together — often through coordinated central bank intervention and working with international organizations such as the World Bank and the United Nations, bringing together all of the nations of the world to tackle the challenges posed by global economic crises.

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