Yoshito Hori, president of GLOBIS University, managing partner of GLOBIS Capital Partners, shares his views from an entrepreneur’s perspective.

Last week I got back to Japan from the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. I first went to the Forum in 2004, so this year was my eleventh time. This gave me the idea of taking stock and examining how Davos has changed over the last decade.

I found 5 significant changes.

1. Davos has got bigger—and buzzier

The conference has physically expanded. The Congress Centre has been enlarged. There are more attendees; the sessions and hallways are always crowded and there’s more traffic in the streets. At the same time, media coverage has expanded, boosting awareness of the conference worldwide. Now most sessions are also live-streamed on the Internet.

2. The spotlight keeps shifting. This year Japan was the star.

From 2006, China was the Davos theme du jour. Sessions on China were jam-packed. Then, in 2009 the spotlight shifted to India. The country sent a large delegation; there was an “India Night,” with buildings decorated in bright colors and Bollywood music at the disco. Everyone had great expectations of “Incredible India.”

This year, however, India and China have rather dropped from view. It was Japan’s turn to come to the fore. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was invited to make the conference’s keynote speech, with Professor Klaus Schwab, World Economic Forum founder, declaring “Japan is back” in his introductory remarks. The conference closed with a panel on the global economic outlook featuring Haruhiko Kuroda, Governor of the Bank of Japan, alongside the heads of the Bank of England, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Japanese establishment certainly took Davos seriously. This year the government sent a delegation of five ministers. The next chairman of the Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and the chairman of Keizaidoyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives) were also in attendance.

The enthusiasm was reciprocal. Back in 2004, I recall there being a paltry 10 or 15 people attending the Japan session. This year’s discussion on “Reshaping Japan” was full, with a waiting list for those unable to get in.

3. Tech and the Internet taking center stage

The conference has an ever-growing focus on IT. Themes under discussion this year included wearable technology, online education through MOOCs (massive open online courses), cybersecurity and the impact of social media. Among the speakers were Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Marc Benioff of Salesforce and John Chambers of CISCO. As I mentioned earlier, many events were live streamed and attendees are also invited to tweet and share during certain events.

4. A broader scope and more inclusive

Davos’ traditional focus was on business and politics. But this year far more emphasis was being placed on the cultural and spiritual dimension. Matt Damon was in attendance to receive a cultural award. A Buddhist monk from Japan came, and there even was a session on meditation. There were also plenty of social entrepreneurs committed to finding a third way between the worlds of non-profit and business.

With its expansion, Davos has branched out its base to welcome more diverse nationalities. Now the World Economic Forum is a true global microcosm, with attendees from Asia, Central Europe, Africa and South America, in addition to the OECD economies. The WEF is also reaching out to global youth through Global Shapers, a program that gives opportunities to exceptional young people under 30 years old with leadership potential, and through The Forum of Young Global Leaders, a community of 900 “bold, brave, action-oriented and entrepreneurial” leaders under 40 years old.

5. The problems are getting bigger—and harder to deal with

In recent years, a host of intractable problems have been on the agenda at Davos: social problems like youth unemployment and income disparity; environmental problems such as climate change; and then the whole issue of water, energy and food security. Despite all the discussion, workable solutions have not yet been forthcoming.

So what?
Over the last ten years, Davos has grown bigger, more influential and more inclusive. At the same time, it finds itself attempting to tackle bigger problems than ever.

These problems—climate change, trade liberalization, social fissures—are so big that they seem to exceed the capacity of current global governance institutions. The IMF, the World Bank, the G20, the UN, the WTO—all seem to be powerless in the face of the great challenges of our time.

In an effort to fill the vacuum, the WEF has established a Network of Agenda Councils. Each Council is made up of experts in diverse fields from around the world tasked with providing new thinking on today’s most pressing issues.

Whatever fields these Councils are working on, many of them end up reaching a similar conclusion: as part of solving the really big problems, we need the right kind of leadership in place.

The old model of leadership is obsolete.

A new model of leadership is required.

Among all the Councils, the WEF’s Global Agenda Council on New Models of Leadership thus has a crucial role to play.

This Council (full disclosure: I’m a member) is exploring how leaders need to change to be effective in today’s complex, globalized and technology-enabled world.

The Council’s conclusions are relevant to all of us, from presidents and ministers through to CEO’s, departmental heads and the self-employed.

In my next post, I will reveal what we think the new model leader should look like.

Meanwhile let me know your thoughts.

What are your impressions of Davos? And what sort of qualities do you think leaders need now?

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