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Section 1: Insights and Issues

Setting the Context: Values in Crisis

The Global Agenda Council on Values was established in 2010 as a logical follow-on from a conversation on values commenced by the former Global Agenda Council on Faith (2008-2009). Through its various activities, the Council on Faith had sought to enhance understanding of the values vital to our collective future and to highlight the positive role that faith can play as a repository and promoter of values in society. Launching a discussion on the need for a more moral and values-driven economy, the Council identified and agreed on three core common values that would need to underlie such an economy in order to lead to a transformation of prospects for humanity and the planet: i) dignity and human flourishing ii) common good of the global community iii) stewardship of the environment.

In a unique opinion poll, conducted by the Global Agenda Council on Faith in association with Facebook and launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in 2010, over two-thirds of the 130,000 respondents worldwide believed that the economic crisis was also a crisis of ethics and values. The same proportion of respondents claimed that people do not apply the same values in their professional lives as they do in their private lives. These findings reveal a perceived “values gap” in the global economy and society.

Throughout the discussions at Davos that year (and in subsequent years), it is clear that enlightened leaders from all sectors recognize the need to radically rethink the values, rights and responsibilities underpinning governance, culture and leadership systems. For this reason it was decided to expand the Forum’s engagement in this area and the Global Agenda Council on Values was established as a multistakeholder group of experts, emphasizing the multidimensional character of the values challenge and the need to engage and mobilize all sectors of society in an open dialogue on the subject. Some members of the Council on Faith remained on the Council, ensuring continuity in the discussions and sending out a signal to society that the faiths can be an important source of values.

Values in Decision-Making

During 2011-2012, the Council’s name changed to the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making, reflecting the fact that across the world, decision-makers are struggling to take action on critical economic, political and societal issues, many of which may have an important values dimension. The collapse of financial systems has generated a growing disbelief and fundamental distrust in how institutions act and how decisions are made. Decision-making involves identifying and choosing alternatives based on the values and preferences of the decision-maker. An examination of the decisions and actions that have contributed to the recent economic, social and environmental crises therefore presents an opportunity to revisit our values, realign our collective moral compass, and redesign business and management models. The Council composition reflected this subtle change in direction, including key experts on values in decision-making and regulatory processes, drawn from among business, government, civil society and academia. The Council hoped to capture the aspects of behaviour that may have created or contributed to the current crises, as well as to develop a package of practical tools to help to inspire and institutionalize values-based governance, culture and leadership systems.

Council members have been seeking to develop new models and mechanisms to help to narrow the perceived values gap at individual, organizational and societal level that was revealed by the above-mentioned Facebook survey. In this spirit, the members have each contributed to four specific sub-projects:

  1. (Hack-in to Reinvent Business, San Francisco, 8-9 June 2012
  2. Principles for Corporate Mechanisms for Values in Decision-Making and Discussions
  3. Paper on a New Social Covenant (draft prepared for discussions in Davos)
  4. Research Project on Values and the Global Agenda (values analysis of Council activities)

Values and the Role of Business in Society

Within the broader values context, questions concerning the role of business in society are becoming an increasingly salient topic of debate. There is an urgent need to reconnect business with society’s values so that it is seen to be genuinely serving public needs. Beyond conventional concepts of corporate social responsibility, the discourse has shifted to more fundamental questions of principle and values, prompting us to rethink the very purpose of the enterprise.

Given this critical role of business and the added value that the World Economic Forum can offer as a convening platform, the Council on Values in Decision-Making adopted a particular focus on how business behaviours and decisions may need to change in order to co-create a more shared and sustainable source of value(s). In this respect, it has cooperated closely with the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Business.

In 2012-2014, this work will continue to be taken forward by the Council on the Role of Business and incorporated into a specific World Economic Forum workstream, reflecting how the issue of values is becoming mainstreamed and is now seen as core to a successful and sustainable long-term business strategy.

Values and the Need for a New Social Covenant

The historical social contract between business, government and society seems to be broken, and the legitimacy of corporations has reached a new low point, with business running the risk of losing its license to operate. Movements such as Occupy Wall Street and the recent uprisings in the Arab world express growing public indignation at the perceived disconnect between perks for a few and the rights of many. Citizens are demanding more collaborative, sustainable and inclusive methods of value co-creation. In an effort to delineate the boundaries of rights and responsibilities between government, private sector and civil society in this new era, the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making decided to draw up a draft social covenant, which it has deployed as a conduit to consultations with different stakeholders.

Business seems to have mastered the scaling and systematization of the way it deploys capital, technology, and labour. Yet the human operating system – the system of governance, culture and values that drive the millions of decisions we must make every day to operate business successfully and sustainably – has failed to keep pace. How can we create scale for the values that must underlie all other systems in business?

Towards a Values Transformation: Governance, Culture and Leadership

It is clear that effective leadership must incorporate a values dimension. However, while many leaders espouse principles including transparency, integrity, and the common good, actual practice often lags behind the rhetoric. Due to growing interdependence and interconnectivity, this gap between values and behaviour is increasingly open to public scrutiny and subject to systemic effects. It appears that even well-articulated and generally supported values are difficult to translate into day-to-day decision-making and into the behaviours observed by suppliers, citizens, customers, and employees.

The work of the Council on Values in Decision-Making is of crucial importance in this context, as it examines the aspects of behaviour that may have created or contributed to the current crises, as well as exploring new models, mechanisms and mindsets for values-based governance, culture and leadership systems. The Council is uniquely positioned to engage leaders from all sectors in a constructive debate on how to generate shared and societal value along both the corporate and government value chain. It has been collecting examples of good practice and considering how forward-thinking leaders are transforming their organizations and restoring significance by shifting from a shareholder to a responsible stakeholder strategy. At a practical level, the Council has been developing activities and approaches to motivate, measure and institutionalize values-based behaviour.

Future Strategy of the Global Agenda Council on Values

From the outset, the Council has viewed its work as a multi-year process. While a discussion on the role of business in society will now be taken forward through a separate workstream, the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making will resume its endeavours towards establishing an ongoing dialogue on the values framework that might be necessary for a more moral economy and society. It will seek to engender a multistakeholder conversation concerning the place of values in decision-making and design a consultation process aimed at the development of a global ethics framework. The Council will also continue its efforts towards building consensus around the concept of a new social covenant and encouraging a long-term values-based transformation of the global economy, politics and society. The membership of the new and slightly refocused Council will thus be expansive enough to include academics and ethics experts, government representatives and public figures, civil society, artists and writers, faith leaders and business members – in short, every stakeholder group that has a share in the future of our global value(s) system.

Section 2: Impact – Strategy and Activities

The Council has identified a values gap in behaviour and decision-making at three levels: individual, organizational and societal. Its strategy has been to task sub-groups of its members to work on projects targeting the values gap in each of these specific, but systemically linked, areas.

i. Projects at Individual Level

Hackathon to Reinvent Business, San Francisco, 9-10 June 2012

This event is designed as a hackathon to “reinvent business” by developing a toolkit of social technology-based products and services to help individuals to practise values-based decision-making and make ethical choices

Inspired by some cross-Council conversations at the World Economic Forum Summit on the Global Agenda in 2011, the Council identified social technologies as providing opportunities to build more truly human and social enterprises, driving greater transparency in values and serving as potential enablers for companies and the people within them to make better decisions. A two-day hackathon has been planned by the Council, inviting software developers, designers, film-makers, writers and business leaders to imagine interactive applications to transform business from within (e.g. taking advantage of network effects, instant feedback and peer pressure, as well as insights from behavioural economics and gaming). The goal is to create concepts for products, services, and tools that translate values such as transparency, fairness, inclusiveness, and empowerment into tangible, personal experiences, and to develop practical solutions and tools that allow companies and their people to live up to their ideals in their day-to-day decision-making and behaviours.

Some of the problem spaces that will be tackled during the hackathon include:

  • Transparency and Accountability: How can we use open data to increase transparency and thereby foster corporate accountability and trust between companies and society?
  • Empathy: How can dynamic communication channels put individuals in companies – from c-suite on down – in better touch with their customers’ needs?
  • Vision and Alignment: How can technology help organizations to craft and uphold meaningful missions that are in touch with the passions of their people and society’s needs?
  • Actionable Codes of Conduct: How can software applications translate abstract company values and ethical principles into personal day-to-day decision-making?
  • Collaboration and Empowerment: How can companies become open organizations that harness and build social capital both inside and outside their institutional boundaries?
  • New Success Metrics: How can technology help to capture and measure metrics that redefine success and sustainability in the 21st century (e.g. meaning, happiness)?

The event is hosted jointly by frog design and LRN, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, Silicon Valley Bank, Net Impact, Fast Company, Cue Ball, Blumberg Capital and the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making, the World Economic Forum Network of Young Global Leaders, and the World Economic Forum Network of Global Shapers. A jury consisting of Silicon Valley VCs, marketers, product designers, journalists, business and academic leaders will review the ideas presented by the hackathon teams. The winning team will receive significant public recognition, a cash prize, and free consulting from frog design and from LRN, a company that helps to inspire principled performance in business.

ii. Projects at Organizational Level

Principles for Corporate Mechanisms for Values in Decision-Making and Discussions

The Council has developed a set of principles for effective structural mechanisms and strategies to encourage values-based discussions and decision-making within organizations. The Council believes that the introduction of an internal process to effectively discuss values-related issues in a business corporation generates a number of benefits, e.g. assisting the corporation in clarifying and defining its “values”, in generating multistakeholder decision-making and in providing a respected forum for discussion of values-related conflicts and concerns. This work is currently in progress and a second stage might involve targeting specific companies to illustrate these principles with practical examples. From its research, the Council has identified certain key principles that seem to pertain generally and that can serve as useful guideposts in designing such an internal process for a company. They include:

  1. Articulation of the company values
  2. Senior validation of the values
  3. Company-tailored mechanism (typically, a committee) to discuss values-related issues
  4. Committee details: Mandate, Authority, Membership, Frequency
  5. Integration of the Committee into the day-to-day life of the company

iii. Projects at Societal Level

Paper on a New Social Covenant

The Council believes that a new Social Covenant between citizens, businesses, and government urgently needs to be designed, including an agreement on basic universal values. Such Covenants may vary from country to country, and it is not possible to be prescriptive about either content or process. But by definition it will require the engagement, consultation and collaboration of a wide range of constituents. The Council prepared a draft social covenant paper as a background paper for discussion during the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012. Council members who were present capitalized on the opportunity to promote the concept of the social covenant, attracting positive feedback, support and interest from several key stakeholders. There has been continued co-operation with the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Business on this topic, as well as some preliminary discussions with the Global Agenda Council on Competitiveness. The Council is now seeking to build broad consensus around the principles contained within the draft covenant and plans to engage in further outreach and advocacy efforts. It is intended that the paper will be launched at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in January 2013.

Research Project on Values and the Network of Councils (values analysis of Council activities)

The Council has proposed a two-year research project to analyse the work plans and reports of other Councils, and to offer guidance from a values perspective. It aims to map the underlying values that have an impact on drivers, trends, risks, opportunities, policies and institutional responses.

The integration of the values dimension into the many issues facing the global agenda signals the single biggest challenge (and opportunity) for the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making. Every other Global Agenda Council – issue-focused, region-focused, or industry-focused – has to deal with either implicit or explicit values. Sometimes there is a direct and obvious link to more traditional values (e.g. anti-corruption, the role of business, human rights); sometimes the link is mediated by related concepts such as sustainability (e.g. climate change, renewable energy, food security) or by law (intellectual property, illicit trade, organised crime). And sometimes the link becomes clear only through the application of more indirect philosophical approaches (e.g. values associated with ageing, space security, social innovation). The Global Agenda Council on Values can make an important contribution to raising awareness and stimulating a debate about the relevance of values in decision-making across the range of issues covered by the Network of Councils.

From an initial assessment of the Council Reports 2010-2011, the following values clusters have been identified: respect, honesty, fairness, and accountability. These values can be linked to the core value of integrity, and ultimately to the notion of a moral economy. The Council will attempt to develop a conceptual framework that can guide issue-, region- or industry-focused discussions in such a way that values are incorporated into decision-making processes. The research will map relevant issues to core values, with an additional focus on high-risk regions and high-risk industries. The Council will also attempt to identify hyper-norms (cross-cutting, non-negotiable values) as well as areas of unchartered moral territory or more ambiguous moral space. Relevant examples will be documented as case studies that can inform future decision-making. The output of the research will be twofold:

  • an internal position paper that will be distributed at the 2012 Summit on the Global Agenda and made available via the online platform Toplink (deliverable for the Council’s 2011-2012 term);
  • a publicly available document that will share the results of the additional and more detailed research (including case studies) as well as the proposed decision-making framework with all stakeholders globally (deliverable for the Council’s 2012-2013 term).

Section 3: Advocacy Efforts – Publications, Programming, Events and Discussions

Throughout the year, members of the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making have promoted the Council’s recommendations to relevant business and societal leaders. The Council has also taken its work forward through input into World Economic Forum programming and events. Interactive workshops and thematic brainstorming sessions have offered opportunities for cross-Council and cross-sector collaboration. Several Council members featured as speakers during values-related sessions at the Annual Meeting and some have published articles and blog posts to publicize the Council’s work.

Council Publications

Summary of Programming, Events and Discussions

Global Agenda Summit, Abu Dhabi, November 2011: Cross-Council meeting on ‘The Role of Business in Society: A New Narrative’

Several members of the Council on Values in Decision-Making joined a cross-Council thematic discussion on the role of business in society. Participants agreed on the need for reflection on, and renewal of, the positive role that business can play in society, as well as for a more values-based redefinition of the values chain. Common concerns and challenges were identified, as well as some initial elements of a shared narrative.

World Economic Forum Annual Meeting, Davos, January 2012

The Annual Meeting included many sessions with a strong values dimension. It was clear that the debate on the role and responsibilities of business in society has become increasingly urgent and public. The Chair of the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making attended a breakfast meeting organized by the Global Agenda Council on the Role of Business, where he shared some of the Council’s thinking and explored possibilities for collaboration and co-ordination. Members of the Council were also featured as speakers in relevant sessions (e.g. ‘The Values Context’, Trust and the Social Contract’).

World Economic Brainstorming on Business, Governance and Leadership – New Pressures and Realities, Annual Meeting, Davos 2012

Several members of the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making attended and actively contributed to a round table brainstorming discussion.

Private Workshop on Values in Decision-Making at the Annual Meeting 2012: New Models for Values in the Economy and Society

After a series of workshops conducted by the Council in previous Annual Meetings, this interactive event convened leaders across sectors to discuss and build scenarios for an “ideal” economy and society that would encourage more values-based behaviour.

Brainstorming Session on the Role of Business, March 2012, New York

Two members of the Global Agenda Council on Values in Decision-Making represented the Council at this event, where participants highlighted the need for a business to embrace a model that embeds broader-based societal value.


The opinions expressed here are those of the individual Members of the Council and not of the World Economic Forum or any institutions to which they are affiliated.