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A life built on solid foundations

Time for thought: Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the WEF Keystone

Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), has been dedicated to improving the state of the world for more than 30 years.

This content was published on June 27, 2005 - 13:12

At the inaugural Forum for Young Global Leaders in Zermatt, which focused on the world in 2020, he told swissinfo about his own visions.

Professor Schwab’s work at the WEF in Geneva has provided a collaborative framework for world leaders to address global issues, engaging in particular its corporate members in global citizenship.

He has received numerous honours for entrepreneurial initiatives in the global public interest, and for peace and reconciliation efforts in various regions.

swissinfo: Professor Schwab, what are the main challenges facing the world?

Klaus Schwab: I have two inter-related answers: the world is becoming increasingly complex and fast-paced. The issue is whether our political systems – and even human minds – can still cope with the speed and complexity of change.

swissinfo: You have said that you want to integrate young global leaders into processes which ensure that global decision-making preserves the interests of the next generation. How are the interests of the next generation being served now?

K.S.: Global decision-making is mainly in the hands of people who are over 50 or 60. And politicians depend on an aging electorate. This means – if you look at some European countries – the tendency of older people to preserve what they have achieved and not necessarily risk having to cope with a changing environment.

So if we want to make progress, we have to really look at all the challenges in the world and obviously undertake some risks and make some sacrifices.

swissinfo: The baby-boom generation is starting to retire, with 80 million people in the United States alone due to retire over the next 30 years. How will this affect the global economy?

K.S.: Very seriously. First, it will reinforce the bias towards old age in terms of political constituency. Second, it will mean that the dependency rate will become smaller and smaller – in other words, those in retirement will depend on fewer and fewer people to support them.

Latest projections say one in five people of working age will be needed to take care of old people! Another impact will be the tremendous burden on the healthcare system.

swissinfo: How do you see the global economy developing over the next few decades?

K.S.: I’m very optimistic. Tremendous progress has been made if you look back 30 years and I think this will continue despite the fact that we will have to absorb another two billion people over the next 20-25 years. So I’m optimistic.

But we have to make a distinction between the overall development and its composition. In Europe we will probably have very little growth if any. Growth will mainly occur in China and India.

swissinfo: Regarding the next generation, you are now 67 – do you have any information on your succession?

K.S.: First of all the current retirement age was originally determined by Bismarck in the middle of the 19th century when life expectancy did not even reach 65! I belong to the new generation that feels that as long as you are mentally and physically fit – and I swim a kilometre every day – I don’t see any reason to discuss succession. This stupid, artificial cut-off of 65 is ridiculous!

More seriously though, my task as an institution builder is to build an institution. I don’t necessarily have to look for a successor. I have to ensure that we have in the Forum, on all levels, the best people available. That’s much more important than to have determined the top man – particularly since we have a very good foundation board.

swissinfo interview, Thomas Stephens in Zermatt

Key facts

Professor Klaus Schwab was born in 1938 in Ravensburg, Germany.
His father was Swiss and was a factory manager.
In 1971 Schwab founded the European Management Forum which is now the World Economic Forum. It is a not-for-profit foundation committed to improving the state of the world.
In 1998 he and his wife Hilde founded the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, supporting social innovation around the world.
In 2004 Schwab founded the Forum of Young Global Leaders.

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