Rosalind McLymont From Jan. 28 to Feb. 1, heads of state, policymakers, and the chief executives of leading corporations, financial and academic institutions, think tanks and social nonprofits met in the mountain resort of Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, to discuss possible solutions to the world’s problems.

The occasion was the 39th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, a Swiss-based nonpartisan nonprofit seeking to improve the state of the world by creating partnerships to shape enlightened global, regional and industry agendas. As always, the meeting was guided by a lofty and ambitious theme. This year’s theme was “Shaping the Post-Crisis World.”

At the closing plenary session, participants painted a sobering picture of a rapidly darkening economic landscape, in which the pain of rising unemployment, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and poverty are only beginning to be felt, according to the final press release. There was plenty of blame about who caused this situation and how. But after five days of deliberations, the message from one of the world’s most prestigious gatherings was simply this: Leaders must continue to develop “a swift and coordinated policy response to the most serious global recession since the 1930s: global challenges demand global solutions.”

No breakthroughs! Though commendable in its intent, a soon-to-be-launched WEF initiative to address the numerous longer-term issues raised by the crisis, particularly the need for a complete overhaul of the existing global governance institutions, announced by Klaus Schwab, the forum’s founder and executive chairman, seemed a yawn.

One bright spark was a call from Ernst & Young, the global accounting and professional services firm. “In troubled financial times, hope for a brighter future resides largely in the world’s potential for renewed economic growth. What many people don’t realize is that achieving such growth depends on the world’s ability to expand women’s participation in the global work force,” E&Y said. To raise awareness of this “powerful force for growth,” the firm interviewed leading thinkers in business, government and academia and published its findings in a white paper titled “Groundbreakers: Using the Strength of Women to Rebuild the Worlds’ Economy.”

The paper demonstrates that the increased participation of women in business could significantly enhance global growth.
E&Y CEO James S. Turley pressed the point in a Jan. 30 Op-Ed in The Wall Street Journal. “It is not just about adding a woman here or there. It is about building the critical mass that gives people the power to speak up, and to have their views heard,” he wrote. “It’s not that women make better decisions, have a greater sense of risk, or can sniff out fraud better than men. But they tend to approach decisions differently than men, with different frames of reference. Not having enough women in positions of power and decision-making capacities has deprived major firms — and the global economy — of the diversity in thinking and resulting positive outcomes, which were desperately needed then, and now.”
Aw shucks!

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