The World Economic Forum (WEF) kicks off in Davos today, with the world’s global leaders, top business executives, and mega rich all laying out their visions of the future. 

As every year, many are wondering whether any of the meetings’ many promises will actually happen. 

The 48th annual Davos meeting has the theme Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World and the organisers claim it will “rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative”.

Up for discussion are the economic, social and political divisions that currently prevent integration and development across the world.

With the WEF’s history of low female attendance and status as a playground for the global elite, this year’s theme may seem slightly at odds with its reputation.

Yet for co-chair Sharan Burrow, the meeting offers a genuine chance to see global progression — so long as those involved maintain “the courage to forge vital change”.

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The general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) spoke with Verdict about how this year could be a pivotal moment in WEF history, and how US president Donald Trump’s presence provides more of a distraction than a development.

Burrow is one of seven women acting as co-chairs for this year’s event, significant in itself as the WEF has a history of poor female representation.

In the past as little as 17 percent of attendees have been women, with this year’s figure sitting at 21 percent. 

Read more: This year’s World Economic Forum is the first to be chaired entirely by women — here’s who they are

The move implies that gender disparity will receive some of the spotlight at the event, and according to Burrow sends the deliberate message that “inclusion is of central importance to countering the fractured world we live in”.

There is the hope that the all-female board will catalyse a more equally weighted guest list in future.

Burrow on business

Burrow has an extensive history in workers’ rights having previously been president of the Bathurst Trades and Labour Council and President of the Australian Education Union.

Seeing change in systemic workplace inequalities is of high importance for her at this year’s event.

Attending the WEF for almost 20 years now, Burrow says there has been some change in how issues are spoken about, but little reform itself.

She says:

Business as usual still dominates. Now is the time for serious change to happen. We need governments to stop indulging the self-interest of big corporations.

Corporate greed has dominated globalisation with the consequence of historical inequality despite the world which is both denying development for poorer peoples and ironically undermining the sustainability of the prevailing model of business. We need a new social contract where rights, inclusive growth and shared prosperity are forged.

The SDG’s and the Paris climate agreement promised a zero poverty, zero carbon future but it will not be realised without leaders in every sphere having the courage to forge vital change.

Read more: WEF 2018 — What the richest ten speakers at Davos are worth

Changing the system within which businesses are run would also benefit the women who Burrow describes as being ‘held back’ by the current model. Only then will we see them rising through the ranks of business and occupying leadership roles, she says.

On the Davos 2018 theme: Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World

Speaking on this year’s theme, Burrow says that though many of the divisions seen today are self-inflicted, people have the ability to remedy their ill effects:

With historic inequality, massive unemployment, an exploitative model of global supply chains, climate devastation and increased conflict with millions of displaced people we are living in a fractured world devised by the actions of human beings.

For Burrow the WEF is a chance to see whether we will “put our wealth to the serine of humanity and the environment or to continue to threaten a sustainable future.”

Burrow on Trump

The only attendees of interest to Burrow are those who take progressing the global situation seriously. And for her Trump is not one of these people.

I think he’s just a distraction. By contrast Macron and Merkel will address the challenge of an integrated world that requires values based solutions to conflict, refugees, human rights and shared prosperity. I don’t believe Trump’s administration is particularly serious about these things.

As for the various other members of the so-called global elite which make up the Davos attendees, Burrow sees them as an integral addition:

The presence of wealthy corporations, governments, unions and civil society is necessary if we want to negotiate policy shifts and see implementation of the serious change required to heal our fractured world.