How to be behind the eight-ball in Davos.

Can the World Economic Forum be any less useful or relevant?

Most people in business and politics have heard of the World Economic Forum (WEF), best known for holding its annual meeting for the world’s glitterati every January in Davos, Switzerland.

Beyond that international confab, WEF provides a set of “Transformation Maps” on its website which are described as “a constantly refreshed repository of knowledge about global issues, from climate change to the future of work.” 

“Transformation Maps are the World Economic Forum’s dynamic knowledge tool,” the website declares. “They help users to explore and make sense of the complex and interlinked forces that are transforming economies, industries and global issues.”

The maps present insights written by so-called experts along with machine-curated content. Together, “the information allows users to visualise and understand more than 250 topics and the connections and inter-dependencies between them, helping in turn to support more informed decision-making by leaders.”

… And it’s all provided as free content!

Taking a current topic of interest as an example, if one wishes to find out about Ukraine, he or she can click on a link beneath a Transformation Map labelled “Fourth Industrial Revolution” which brings up a new page: From there, select Discover All Topics from the top menu which brings up this new page:

That page displays 293 different topics. Scrolling down a good ways finally brings up “Ukraine” … and here’s what is displayed after clicking on the “Security” issue:

Explaining how the chart was developed, the website reports:

“This Transformation Map explores key issues for Ukraine based on its rankings in the most recent edition of the World Economic forum’s Global Competitiveness Index.”

For the record, those six “key issues” are Financial System, Innovation Capability, Health, Macroeconomic Stability, Transparency and Security.

The Security issue then links to five other topics (Public Finance and Social Protection, Justice and Law, Cities and Urbanization, International Security and Civic Participation).

Curious to see what content would be displayed, I clicked the International Security topic, which causes the International Security Transformation Map to appear. Only then did I finally learn that:

“The return of great power competition has been accompanied by the outbreak in Ukraine of Europe’s largest ground war since World War II.”

I must admit that I am quite impressed with how these Transformation Maps have helped me to visualize and understand the connections and inter-dependencies between Ukraine and International Security … and it is now completely clear to me how these tools support more informed decision-making by leaders. [Feel free to insert snark emoji here.]

Witnessing the Birth of a Nation

Sudan's political regions
Sudan's southern region (in blue) votes 98%+ for secession and is slated to become Africa's newest nation in July 2011.
Is Africa poised to be the home of a brand new country? It would seem so, as the results of a January referendum held in Sudan’s southern region were announced earlier this week.

And the results couldn’t be more definitive: More than 98% of the nearly 3.9 million ballots cast were in favor of separation.

While there were indications of voter irregularity – some provinces have fewer registered voters than votes cast – this is no sham election à la Iran or Cuba. International monitoring groups have determined that the overwhelming sentiment for separation and independence makes the pro-secession vote a valid result.

The final results will be certified in a few weeks, following which the wheels will start turning toward the formal creation of an independent state on a predetermined date of July 9, 2011. The new country will likely be called the Nile Republic or Azania.

If events continue as they are going, July 9 will be the culmination of a decades-long struggle that has produced more than its share of misery for the primarily Christian inhabitants of Sudan’s southern region. In this case, religious and tribal differences trumped the impractical and ultimately unworkable colonial-imposed boundaries set down by Britain in the late 1800s.

But despite the grim and grueling history of the conflict, the resolution of this struggle provides a happier ending compared to similar struggles on the continent – the secession attempt of Biafra from Nigeria being perhaps the best-known. That struggle had similar shades of tribal and religious differences, but the end result was reunification by force.

Contrast that with Sudan’s actions today. President Omar al-Bashir declared that the southern region had a right to choose whether to secede, and stated that his government would respect the outcome of the vote.

This is not to say that Sudan will not continue to keep a close eye on its southern border. “The stability of the south is very important because any instability in the south will have an impact on the north,” al-Bashir says. “The south suffers from many problems. It’s been at war since 1959.”

One can only imagine the Herculean challenges the new Nile Republic will face – ranging from citizenship qualification to finances, infrastructure and security issues.

But to have come so far while suffering so much in the process, those are issues most people are probably looking forward to facing and solving. And those of us lucky enough to have been born into societies where self-determination is already an accepted ideal wish them nothing but success.