Religious Women in Davos at the World Economic Forum


For the first time a group of religious women participated in the World Economic Forum (WEF), making their presence felt through presentations on various topics and in interviews and discussions. Sister Mary John, SSpS, was among them and tells us how it was.


The World Economic Forum 2022 was held, as usual, in Davos- Switzerland from 22-26 May 2022. Davos is situated 150 Kilometres South East of Zurich. Travel time by public transport could take close to three hours. WEF 2022 was special in that it was held after a break of two years and that it was held in the spiring rather than in winter as was customary.

This gathering of eminent business entrepreneurs and politicians is aimed at private-public collaboration in the areas of social and economic development.  This year it brought together around 2000 business leaders and experts to discuss how they could address urgent humanitarian and security challenges as they simultaneously advance economic and environmental progress.  It may be noted that the Forum has in the past, has come under criticism for its exclusive, elite and urban approach to development which allegedly had little impact on the daily lives of ordinary citizens.

Three Cs loomed large over the Forum 2022: Covid-19, Conflict in Ukraine and other parts and Climate Crisis. Along the streets of Davos were set up offices and showrooms of various delegations as well as the vision, goals and strategies of prominent business companies.  Events were organized in tents with access limited to respective badge holders. What made the 2022 World Economic Forum unique was that for the first time ever, three religious Sisters attended and contributed to the Forum in the specified events.

They were Sr. Pat Murray IBVM Executive Secretary -UISG (the second in the photo), Sr. Ruth Mora (the first one), a Salesian Sister who has worked extensively in Ethiopia and South Sudan and Sr. Mary John, SSpS, Associate Executive Secretary of UISG (the last one). They were invited at the behest of the Global Solidarity Fund and Handshake- two donor foundations. It is thanks to their determination and effort that the Sisters were able to participate and contribute to the Forum discussions and conversations. The Sisters attended programmes organized principally in Goal 17 Tents.

The events that the Sisters attended and made presentations include:

  • Advancing Courageous Leadership: Elevating Voices from the Margins
  • Job Creation on the Edges. Refugees, Markets and the Power of Partnerships
  • Consumers Power on Climate Action
  • United Nations Foundation and UN Women: Friends of Generation Equality

Interviews with diverse media representatives, receptions, and formal and informal conversations around the table pervaded the days in Davos.

“Courageous leadership
is about staying with the people
in times of crisis”

Sisters shared the stage with CEOs of prominent business companies and financiers and used the opportunity to speak of alternative economies and the role of the Church in social and human development. They shared real and on the ground experiences of leadership at the grassroots, in the missions and with vulnerable groups of men, women and children. They illustrated their vision of leadership with concrete examples of empowerment and restoration of human dignity and rights for the downtrodden, women and children.

“Courageous leadership”, they said, “is not always the most visible or recognizable form of leadership.  Courageous leadership is patient, starts with small steps and emerges from direct encounter with grassroots realities. The faith aspect of our lives, the profession of the religious vows and the commitment to the poor have been motivating factors in this type of leadership.  Courageous leadership is about staying with the people in times of crisis:  be it Covid-19, situations of armed conflict or climate change”.

Citing specific instances of frontier issues from India, South Sudan, Ukraine and Italy, they held that courageous leadership should take into consideration the rural and the lowly realities of our world. Talks on development cannot afford to ignore situations of human trafficking, migration, inadequate health care and education.  True progress includes all sections and strata of the society so that together we move towards a more just and a more humane future for all. They spoke of the vital contribution of the Church towards integral human development over the centuries.

The overall atmosphere in Davos was one of goodwill, honest search, willingness to listen, to learn and to join hands in the face of challenges that affect the whole human race. There was a feeling that a solely profit-driven development model was no longer viable because sooner or later, progress must impact the real human being in his or her flesh and bone existence.  Strategies need to change, and the contributions of various sectors including that of faith- based organizations is vital for a more sustainable future. In this scenario, WEF highly appreciated the role and impact of the Catholic Church in general, and of the Sisters in particular.


“Davos 2022 has affirmed
my faith in humanity”

Make no mistake, the World Economic Forum is about the money world, it is about business, profit and influence.  What is new is the realization that a model of progress that does not take into consideration the average human being and his/her needs cannot, in the long run, thrive or survive. Businesses need to make money, but it is possible to make profit without destroying the earth, it is possible to advance financially without trampling underfoot the poor and the vulnerable.

The human race is so interdependent. Nobody can thrive for long by solely depending on his/her own resources alone. Networking, partnership and collaboration are the key values to be promoted to create a model of development that is sustainable, inclusive and experiential. It is hoped that this realization will continue to affect financial policies and decision- making of future World Economic Forums.

My first- hand experience at World Economic Forum – Davos 2022 has affirmed my faith in humanity, in the goodness of the human heart and in the shared future of mutuality.

by Sr. Mary John, SSpS