Davos, Switzerland -- The World Economic Forum is quickly morphing from a once-a-year talkathon into a year-round network of leaders and leading thinkers tackling global problems. Nature hates a vacuum, and the Forum is expanding to fill a void in our systems for global cooperation. It gets people acting constructively, in sharp contrast to the recent failures of other bodies such as the Doha Development Round of the World Trade Organization and the Cancun or Copenhagen Conferences on climate change.
It also fills a special role in bringing together the leaders of the Asian "Tiger Countries" into dialogue with the West -- something no one else is doing well.
We need such networks for dialogue and for launching important initiatives. True, no one "elected" the Forum to try and solve global problems. But increasingly legitimacy flows to those who actually accomplish things and most participants would say that the Forum is doing just that.
For example, over the last two years a thousand leading thinkers have been collaborating in 72 so-called Global Agenda Councils, rethinking many aspects of society from poverty to the future of government. One group of legal scholars has a modest little project -- rethinking the global legal system, which they argue is "no longer fit for function."
These councils meet several times a year and collaborate between meetings on a global technology platform developed by the Forum. Many of the recommendations from these councils have been implemented by governments and corporations and some important initiatives have been catalyzed.
One of these, the Global Risk Response Network to be launched here this week, addresses a new set of emerging risks that threaten the global economy, society and even the very existence of humanity. Failure of the financial system, weapons of mass destruction, new communicable diseases, collapse of environmental systems, water security and 20 other possibilities make the world a volatile place subject to significant and potentially catastrophic risks.
Consider something as seemingly mundane as the global supply chain. The vast networks that provide the world with food, clothing, fuel and other necessities could handle an Iceland volcano and one other catastrophe such as the failure of the Panama Canal. But according to experts, a third simultaneous disaster would collapse the system. People around the world would stop getting food and water, leading to unthinkable social unrest.
The Risk Network is designed to help corporate, government and civil society leaders better mitigate such risks. The world's most relevant global decision-makers will be brought together through a community of Risk Officers from top corporations, governments and international organizations. It will draw on insights from the World Economic Forum's communities and contributors, including expert Forum working groups and a network of the world's top universities.
If a global crisis arises, these leaders could spring to action on a secure network, drawing on insights from any of the Forum's many communities. More important, rather than just reacting to unanticipated problems like the European sovereign debt crisis, leaders could be more proactive.
This approach was informally prototyped during the Haitian earthquake disaster. It wasn't the United Nations that organized the world's response to Haiti - it was myriad organizations and individuals that self-organized to save lives and restore order and Haitian society. The informal network of collaborators orchestrated by the Forum was one of these, pointing to the potential of a more disciplined approach.
Rather than a typical think tank, the World Economic Forum is becoming a do tank.
Don Tapscott recently co-authored Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World.