The world faces a range of complex and interconnected challenges that require innovative and collaborative solutions. From climate change and societal tensions to economic stress and rapidly evolving, disruptive technology, we’re facing a critical period in global history.

Complicated solutions

It’s clear that we’re at an inflection point and that the need for forward-thinking and coordinated action has never been more pressing. While the problems we face may be obvious, the solutions are far more complicated. 

A recently published report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) titled “Future Focus 2025 Pathways for Progress from the Network of Global Future Councils 2020–2022” takes an in-depth look at these global challenges and offers thoughts on how to face them with the future in mind.

Needed: Unprecedented global cooperation

Covering the economy, environment, society, and technology, the WEF report suggests a collaborative approach that requires an unprecedented level of global cooperation to achieve. The goal is to not only address the challenges at hand, but to also create a more sustainable and prosperous future for generations to come.

Global challenges within the economy 

Global challenges within the economy, particularly in relation to wealth inequality, are an ongoing and growing concern. The concentration of wealth and income in the hands of a few individuals and corporations is an issue that affects not only the economy but also social and political stability. 

It is easy to see the true extent of the problems when you consider the fact that 76% of global wealth is held by 10% of people. The nature of such an unequal distribution of wealth stretches far past the idea of fairness since this level of division negatively impacts the stability of governments and society as a whole. 

Righting the economic course

The report published by the World Economic Forum suggests that governments need to take action to right our current economic course. They state that our global response to the unprecedented situation created by COVID-19 illustrates that “radical change is possible” and proves we can collectively create a more equitable future where prosperity is shared. 

Further, they suggest that the government moves slower than innovation and that this must be addressed as it impacts our ability to solve economic issues. This includes more support for those at the lowest economic tiers, social insurance systems, and a focus on wage and income equity.

Impact of extreme wealth inequality

Refuting the idea that governmental action should be taken to solve economic challenges overlooks the impact of extreme wealth inequality. Wealth exerts control over shared areas of our world, providing those with more resources inordinate control over the lives of others. 

This extends to political influence, access to education, housing, and healthcare. Each of these areas has the ability to destabilize the economy and shift politics to continually favor the upper tiers of society. 

A self-perpetuating system

Wealth inequality is also a self-perpetuating system, whereby people and institutions of means raise the bar of entry so high that only others with similar resources can enter. And although there is no simple solution to global economic challenges, providing more equitable access to foundational resources and activities like housing, health care, and education is undoubtedly necessary. 

Global challenges and the environment 

Environmental challenges facing the world are numerous and increasingly urgent. 

Climate change remains one of the most pressing issues, as it contributes to:

  • Rising temperatures
  • Sea levels 
  • Extreme weather events
  • Deforestation
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Pollution 

Air pollution alone is considered the largest global threat to human health, accounting for an estimated seven million deaths annually. 

Water scarcity, natural resources depletion

Additionally, water scarcity, and depletion of natural resources are becoming more widespread, as populations continue to grow and consume more resources. 

While the issues negatively impacting the environment are well known, the path to solving them remains less clear. Unraveling the driving forces behind environmental degradation is complex partly because it is intrinsically tied to the mechanisms that drive our economy, like manufacturing.

Alliances formation abilities

The WEF report suggests that the path to resolving critical environmental problems is tied to our ability to form alliances. This includes partnerships between public and private organizations and global governments. 

They advocate rethinking the use of public money and subsidies to support environmentally damaging activity along with a concerted effort to shift to nature-positive approaches in all areas of business and life. This can be achieved through pursuing and rewarding nature-positive business models and innovation while enforcing increased transparency and compliance.   

Prioritize sustainable practices

Data supports the idea that as the world continues to develop and modernize, we must prioritize sustainable practices. This will require significant shifts in policy, technology, and individual behavior. 

While some organizations are embracing an approach that includes environmental, social, and governance (ESG) strategies, more dramatic and widespread change is needed to create a more sustainable future. 

Global challenges and society 

Few areas demonstrate our interconnectedness as dramatically as the impact that government policies, economic issues, environmental problems, and corporate practices have on society as a whole. 

While there is no doubt that global challenges are complicated and require collaborative solutions, the impact of our problems and the actions we take to solve them are equally significant. Not only do governments need to focus on global change management in order to responsibly transition into more sustainable policies and practices, but business leaders need to understand how to navigate the new realities inherent to global change

Government action and corporate governance

The WEF report sees government action and corporate governance as the solution for global economic and environmental challenges, but they extend this to include societal problems. 

There is a direct tie between wealth inequality and lack of access to education, health care, and opportunities. Those with less means are at greater risk for housing insecurity and more likely to be negatively impacted by pollution and environmental problems caused by the irresponsible activities of corporations. 

At the same time, the groups that are most impacted have less of a say in the very policies that affect them due to the increasing influence of wealth on the government.

Protecting vulnerable populations

The WEF report suggests that technology and digitization can bring greater equality to the underserved and extend resources across all communities so that vulnerable populations are more protected. 

However, it’s worth noting that governments and corporations can only be part of the solution if they share values that place emphasis on the promise of sustainability and shared access to resources and wealth. This includes embracing ESG strategies, transparency, and cooperation.

Global Challenges and Technology 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution increasingly erases the line between the physical and digital, and in doing so, impacts every aspect of our world. Technology is the driving force behind this revolution and must also be a driving force behind tackling global challenges, many of which it has actually created or deepened. 

For example, technology may improve the manufacturing process, but it can also displace workers and create economic instability in regions. New energy sources may reduce emissions but also require the mining of large quantities of rare or toxic materials.

Public/private sectors cooperation

The WEF report sees increased cooperation between the public and private sectors as a mission-critical factor in solving these problems. Forward-thinking cooperation between lawmakers, corporations, and technological innovators can create a more resilient supply chain, reduce pollution, increase access to education and health care, and provide more agile ways to adapt and innovate without destabilizing workers and economies.

Concerns about AI capabilities

A newer area of concern facing our world is the rollout of artificial technologies (AI). AI technology simultaneously has the ability to help and disrupt lives at a global scale, yet it was rapidly introduced to the world before safeguards, standards, and applications for the technology were discussed. 

This showcases the need for agile governance and cooperation at all levels of government and business. Without this level of collaboration, technology is likely to exacerbate the global challenges we all share instead of helping solve them.

Global challenges will shape our future

We are collectively facing dramatic global challenges that will directly shape our future. Our ability to successfully navigate these problems rely on our ability to innovate and cooperate at an unprecedented, worldwide level. And while the time between today and 2025 may not seem very long, with the rapid pace of change and the urgent nature of our problems, it is a critical period. 

Embracing new global thinking

The WEF report provides a framework for understanding and addressing our collective problems and points out that the pandemic proves that we can quickly adapt when necessary. 

By taking the lessons learned by the pandemic and embracing a new type of global thinking, we can create a more equitable and sustainable future. This will require not only a shift of thought across the board, but the training of global leaders that are prepared for the world to come: Leadership for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

If you are interested in becoming a leader in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, explore Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University’s globally-minded degree programs


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