DAVOS, Switzerland — The future of the world economy is not a matter only at the hands of those from the social sciences. Just as many scholars in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) participate in the World Economic Forum 2015 as do experts in economics, business administration, public policy and law. At least regarding its academic guestlist, the WEF holds true to the belief that solutions to pressing global issues will emerge from an interdisciplinary scholarship.
For those who are familiar with the WEF’s history, the number of STEM-related academics shouldn’t be much of surprise. The WEF has its origins in the Centre d’Etudes Industrielle (CEI) in Geneva, an executive business school created in 1946 by Alcan, a Canadian mining company and aluminum manufacturer. In fact, founder and executive chairman of the WEF, Klaus Schwab, was educated as engineer and was working in industrial management before becoming a professor in business policy at the University of Geneva. The conference held for CEI’s 25th anniversary, which Schwab himself organized, brought together business school representatives and industrialists from primarily America and Europe. According to a 2003 paper by Jean-Christophe Gratz, a professor at University of Lausanne,“this was the true beginning of the World Economic Forum.”
We divided the 176 academics at this year’s WEF (coming from a university or working as a researcher at an institute) into six categories of academic fields—considering firstly the title of professorship and secondly their research focus.
What the chart conceals however is that the majority of researchers attributed to engineering or natural sciences are actually experts in more than one academic discipline: biochemists and neuroscientists with a computer science background are just one example.
Such a diverse mix of fields acknowledges the importance of a growing body of research agendas that is seeking new insights into complex issues through the combination of multiple disciplines. Given this year’s theme, “The New Global Context,” and the general forward-looking tone of the WEF’s language and intents, the mix of scholars distributed across these disciplines seems to fit the bill.