UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose


UCL Provost Dr Michael Spence and Prof. Mariana Mazzucato join world leaders at WEF 2024

22 January 2024

UCL President & Provost Dr Michael Spence and Professor Mariana Mazzucato have joined global leaders attending the World Economic Forum in Davos 2024 in Switzerland.

Michael Spence and Mariana Mazzucato

This year's World Economic Forum Annual Meeting ran from 15-19th January and was focused on the theme of 'Rebuilding Trust.' Dr Spence and Professor Mazzucato have joined more than 2,800 leaders across business, academia, industry and government - including 350 heads of state, government figures and ministers - to exchange ideas and make progress on advancing climate action, strengthening the global economy, building resilience and addressing questions on frontier technologies.

Events at this year’s Forum focused on four themes:

  • Achieving security and cooperation in a fractured world
  • Creating growth and jobs for a new era
  • Artificial intelligence as a driving force for the economy and society
  • A long-term strategy for climate, nature and energy

Among the sessions Dr Spence participated in was a panel event on 'Learning in the Age of Superintelligence' hosted by Fast Company and Verizon. The panellists explored the ways universities are adjusting to AI and what employers can learn from educators on how to teach workers to keep pace with technological developments. Dr Spence discussed the ways in which UCL is a world leader in AI research and innovation, including foundational research on natural language processing, computer vision, robot perception and learning; and the real-world applications of AI, including its potential in innovation and driving economic growth.

Dr Spence spoke about trust in relation to science, research and education, at a WEF expert welcome reception bringing together more than 80 leaders from academic institutions around the world. A key theme running throughout the Provost’s engagements has been the work UCL is leading to equip and enable people to ‘Disagree Well’.

Michael Spence speaking at the WEF

Dr Spence also took part in the ‘GULF: Building Bridges’ university leaders roundtable on, 'Promoting peace and collaboration in fractured geopolitical contexts' and spoke at an event hosted by the Prince of Monaco Foundation on, ‘The Revolution in Healthy, Sustainable and Blue Food’. He also addressed attendees of a 'Building the Mental Wealth of Nations' event hosted by University of Sydney, exploring the role that universities can play in this.

While in Davos, the Provost met with UCL alumni, global philanthropists and partners, including the new President of Tsinghua University, Professor Li Luming, at an event on the role of education, technology and blended finance in creating better business. At this event, Dr Spence noted:

I am returning to campus even more convinced of UCL’s unique role in driving solutions to the world’s wicked problems, through our leading research, collaboration and innovations. There are so many leaders and partner organisations from across sectors gathered in Davos, who share our vision for a better world and are keen to work with us. We can and will continue doubling down on these efforts.

Prof Mariana Mazzucato, Director of the UCL Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose (IIPP), took part in a range of events including on water consumption - where she emphasised the need for a market-shaping approach to govern water for the common good – and on government investment, alongside President of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam. She also spoke at a panel event on the financial risks of climate change, and joined former US Vice-President Al Gore and World Trade Organization Director General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala for a New York Times debate on global cooperation.

Mariana Mazzucato speaking at the WEF 2024
As part of her engagement at WEF 2024, Prof. Mazzucato joined the panel discussion "Investors of First Resort: Government Inc" alongside Tharman Shanmugaratnam (President of Singapore), Faisal Alibrahim (Minister of Economy and Planning, Saudi Arabia) and Scott Sandell (Chairman, CEO and Chief Investment Officer, New Enterprise Associates). The panel was moderated by Saadia Zahidi (Managing Director, World Economic Forum).


Speaking at the session, 'Are the Financial Risks of Climate Change Under-Priced?' with Inger Andersen (Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme), Christian Mumenthaler (Group CEO, Swiss Re), Steven van Rijswijk (CEO, ING Group) and moderated by Professor Katharine Hayhoe (Texas Tech University), Prof Mazzucato noted:

There's no shortage of finance. We just have a massive financialization problem. We have global companies that have spent 7 trillion just to share buybacks. We have the gas and oil companies which are leading that share buybacks trend. But we also have in the UK, 80% of finance going back to finance insurance and real estate. So, this is a massive misdirection of finance in the financial sector, overly financialized corporate governance sector and just a completely weirded out moment where we're not actually properly pricing the cost of inaction.




  • From top: Dr Michael Spence and Professor Mariana Mazzucato; Dr Michael Spence speaking at a WEF panel event 'Learning in the Age of Superintelligence'; Professor Mariana Mazzucato addresses audience members at the WEF panel discussion 'Investors of First Resort: Government Inc.'