Four New Institutional Ideas

Drawing on the experiences of Davos and the expertise of their advisors, GRI has brought four new institutional ideas to the debate about the next phase of global governance: multi-stakeholder governance, voluntarism in governance, an institutionalized G20, and a hybrid state-corporate United Nations.

On a conceptual level, governance by multi-stakeholder groups grows right out of Davos and Schwab’s stakeholder theory. In this view, multinational corporations are the central decision-makers in a globalized world. However, in order to be effective and legitimate, these firms need to engage proactively with key stakeholder groups. This engagement will provide corporate executives a learning experience and at the same time imbue these stakeholders with a frame of thinking aligned with current corporate perceptions of the contemporary realities of globalization.

Beyond the exchange of ideas between multi-stakeholder groups at Davos, there has been a growing day-to-day practice of multi-stakeholder engagement in global issues.

WEF’s approach, described more fully below, is to elevate the Davos model and these practical experiments into a new explicit form of global governance. These multi-stakeholder groups, public-private partnerships, or coalitions of the willing and able, as they are variously termed in the Everyone’s Business, should take the lead in addressing unsolved global issues. There is no need to wait for the intergovernmental system to gain universal consensus to act; those countries, those multinational enterprises, and those civil society bodies that share a common approach should take it upon themselves to act. The official intergovernmental system can provide de facto recognition to a multi-stakeholder process and it can, after the fact, provide de jura legality to the outcomes of a given public-private partnership. WEF’s approach therefore embraces the efficiency for action for those who are ready to act.

Allied to a multi-stakeholder governance approach is the idea that all the participants volunteer their time, energy, and capital to solve a given problem. Volunteerism in governance solves a number of complicated issues. First, it dispenses with the long, drawn out negotiation process for binding international agreements and their subsequent country-by-country adoptions. It also means that participants in governance actions are not relatively weak foreign affairs officials but are active participants in a global issue, including country representatives outside of the ministries of foreign relations. Identified problems can be address more quickly without, in their view, recalcitrant governments, old fashioned narrow minded business executives, and divergent views from civil society. Those who find the right combination of partners can move ahead, so long as the other key institutions of international governance do not overly object. 

Volunteerism in governance also means preservation of the informality of public-private partnerships, a continuation of the quiet recruitment for multi-stakeholder groups and the maintenance of self-selection for coalitions of the willing and able. Key Actors can join or abstain, as and when it best suits them. Find the right combination of government offices, the most interested global corporations, and the best informed civil society experts and let them find the right solution. Others from international, regional, and local communities, businesses, or governments can join the volunteer team over time.

WEF’s contribution is to assert that volunteering on a global level can make things happen with greater effectiveness than the universal decision-making of UN bodies. WEF also argues that the outcome of the process will have greater legitimacy as the key multinational corporations and other interested constituencies are seen as working together.


The Readers' Guide welcomes comments with alternative examples or counter examples and commentary – critical or otherwise – of the above interpretation of GRI’s perspective.

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