The World Economic Forum has made an important discovery: San Francisco is a major center for discussing innovation, policy, and the future of civil society.
On Monday, the venerable international organization announced the opening of its third office outside its Geneva headquarters, after New York and Beijing. Dubbed the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in San Francisco, the new office takes its name from the current big-think thesis of WEF’s founder, German business theorist Klaus Schwab. As Alan Murray explained earlier this year, Schwab’s first three revolutions featured steam power, electricity, and computers; the new one involves sensors and artificial intelligence.
WEF is famous for its snowy annual thinkfest in Davos, Switzerland, where global leaders and other opinionated folks come together to discuss the state of the world. It also hosts a series of junior-varsity get-togethers around the world.
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WEF is more than the sum of its meetings, however. At its best, WEF is a convener, bringing together not just the global business leaders who pay for its activities, but also top academics, government officials, youthful leaders in various fields, social entrepreneurs, and on-the-rise technologists. Because of its unique community, WEF can begin important conversations, fund serious research around them, and then get people acting on them.
Taking action is a significant aspiration for WEF, better known for its talking. “We’re pivoting toward more impact-oriented to work,” says Murat Sonmez, the Turkish-born former executive with Silicon Valley software maker Tibco who will head the new office. Sonmez appeared Monday with Schwab at an event at the Presidio, the bucolic converted U.S. Army base near the Golden Gate Bridge, where WEF’s outpost will be. He likes to think of WEF as a “do tank,” rather than a think tank, and says within 18 months the San Francisco office will have about 60 employees. Half will work for the forum, and the others will be temporary “fellows” from the local community.
Areas of study will include precision medicine, artificial intelligence, private drones, autonomous vehicles, and the blockchain. In each case, meaningful policy issues coexist with exciting tech breakthroughs. WEF plans to make recommendations to follow its research initiatives.
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