The World Economic Forum Might Not Be Ready to Lead a Blockchain Revolution

As the World Economic Forum seeks a leadership role in blockchain, a senior executive argues its members still have much to learn.

Jul 5, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 1:30 p.m. UTC
CoinDesk Insights

The research phase of the World Economic Forum's work with blockchain has only just begun, and already its managing director is beginning to explore a more hands-on approach.

So far, the international non-profit comprised of the leaders of more than a thousand of the largest companies in the world, has focused largely on establishing a blockchain working group, last week publishing its first in-depth white paper on how to maximize the impact of the technology.

But following publication of the paper, WEF managing director Richard Samans acknowledged how much more many of his members still have to learn, in spite of projects being initiated on several other fronts.

Samans told CoinDesk:

"Most of this leader-level community is not very well versed in blockchain. In fact, they may know the term, but they don't know much about where the technology is right now and how it may be applied in multi-faceted ways throughout society."

Ostensibly, the white paper – written by Blockchain Research Institute co-founders, Don and Alex Tapscott – was designed to lay the framework for how existing consortia, private companies and governments could work together to maximize the potential benefits of a shared, trustworthy ledger of transactions.

Still, Samans said that even some of the most senior-level executives among the WEF membership still need to learn more about how such a technology could be employed in ways that benefit society at large.

"There’s a second potential benefit of issuing this white paper, for this particular community," said Samans. "And that is to raise awareness of blockchain as as reality already, and to give advanced notice that this deserves some real thinking among all sorts of social actors."

Blockchain match

Key to that learning curve are two main groups within the World Economic Forum.

First is the newly launched Global Future Council on the Future of Blockchain, with membership including Hyperledger executive director Brian Behlendorf, R3 chief technology officer Richard Gendal Brown and Everledger CEO Leanne Kemp.

Second is the Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, launched last October to pursue new ways to leverage the mutli-stakeholder approach across industries. With partners that include Salesforce, Kaiser Permanente, Palantir Technologies and SAP, the center has been studying new ways to implement AI, the civilian use of drones, distributed ledger technology and more.

According to Samans, blockchain itself is perfectly suited for the multi-stakeholder principals being followed within the center, which he said "could improve the prospects for the technology's development."

Whether that actually ever happens, though, is contingent on how quickly the members can catch up on the technology, and whether blockchain developers even want such centralizing oversight, regardless of its intentions.

Samans concluded:

"We are also a fertile platform for further catalyzing partnerships and in this case, there are a number of potentially quite interesting use cases of blockchain, which are really in the early stages of being explored, whether they have to do with development or the way the economy operates."

Disclosure: CoinDesk is a subsidiary of Digital Currency Group, which has an ownership stake in Everledger.

World Economic Forum image via Flickr

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