David Christian at the World Economic Forum

David Christian at the World Economic Forum

David Christian at the World Economic Forum

(Image credit: Michael Buholzer | flickr)

Andrew McKenna, Executive Director of the Big History Institute, reflects upon his recent experiences at the World Economic Forum, Davos. 

The New Global Context

The recent Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January was a tremendously exciting event for Big History, which was embedded in the programme very significantly.  David Christian opened the first session in the congress hall with a fantastic presentation asking "How Did We Get Here?" which provided a Big History 101 class on what leaders can learn from Big History to prepare for tomorrow.  David was introduced by Al Gore and it was great to see not only the enthusiasm and support from Al Gore for Big History, but the wonderful transition from David's question 'How Did We Get Here?' to the question of 'What's Next' which Al Gore addressed in his presentation on the opportunity for action on climate change.

How Did We Get Here? Big History 101

Through a compelling visual narrative, historian David Christian highlights what leaders can learn from Big History to prepare for tomorrow.
Speakers: Al GoreDavid ChristianTopics: Economic Growth And Social Inclusion

To think through the profound political, economic, social, and technological transformations we are currently facing, the programme of the Annual Meeting was divided into four pillars which addressed Growth and Stability, Crisis and Cooperation, Society and Security, and Innovation and Industry.   The overall theme for the 2015 Meeting was 'The New Global Context' which explored the ideas of complexity, fragility, uncertainty, and contextual intelligence - all concepts which are very familiar to students of Big History.

What's Next? A Climate for Action

Through a powerful visual narrative, Al Gore reveals what's next for climate in 2015.
Speakers: Al GorePharrell WilliamsKevin WallTopics: Environment And Resource Security

Big History, Big Future

The relevance of Big History as a framework to these discussions was reflected not only in David's plenary presentation, but also in the 'Big History, Big Future' series of interdisciplinary panels that were designed to bring together experts across disciplines to help leaders 'think big by thinking back and thinking beyond' in the new global context.  Thought provoking discussions took place across the panels which were chaired by Professor Ngaire Woods, Dean of the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.  The first panel on 'Cooperation' explored the idea from the origins of life to megacities, with experts from psychology and neuroscience, urbanisation, and literature and history. 

The second panel on 'Innovation' saw geneticists, space pioneers, scientists, and historians of science consider how innovation functions from the realm of evolutionary biology through to driving the industrial and scientific revolutions.  The third panel on 'Globalisation, Growth and Stability' covered the span from the emergence of international trade to the Anthropocene and saw a great debate between economic and ecological viewpoints.

(Image credit: Andrew McKenna)

Collective Learning in Action

The most striking feature of the Forum was how it appeared to function as a living breathing example of the Big History idea of 'collective learning' in action.  It was quite incredible to see representatives of diverse stakeholders, from corporate executives, political leaders, international organisations, civil society, social entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, and academics engaged in intense discussion and exchange of views.  Network nodes, hubs, and links seemed to materialise and constantly reshape in front of you, and right throughout the congress centre. 

One of the innovations from WEF this year was an interactive touchscreen space which featured both Big History as well as a stunning visual information display on the Anthropocene and planetary boundaries by the Stockholm Resilience Centre.  This space hosted not only scheduled presentations on Big History by David and myself, but many informal discussions with so many interested delegates.

Great Start to 2015

Ultimately my impression of the Davos meeting was one of deep resonance for Big History.  Throughout the WEF's discussions across the long term implications of issues ranging from the systemic impact of geopolitical competition, the future of public and private institutions, scientific and technological advance, and the governance of critical global commons - the ability of Big History to contextualise and inform reflections across this spectrum of issues was demonstrably embraced.  The experience was tremendously worthwhile and certainly endorsed, in my view, our global plans for the Big History Institute at Macquarie.    As we work to take Big History to the world, and to all students regardless of circumstance, I found the enthusiasm, support and interest at Davos incredibly encouraging, and a great start to 2015!

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