By Arianna Huffington

The mood in Davos this year is "somber."

"Humanity is at a crossroads," Klaus Schwab, the World Economic Forum's founder, said in his opening remarks. "We can either continue to work as lobbyists for our narrowly defined self-interests and keep doing the same old things that got us into the crisis in the first place," or we can "act together as true global leaders, with the long term global public interest in mind and at heart."

It's a sweeping statement, but I don't think Schwab is overstating the case.

Nearly 40 years ago, Jonas Salk talked about how the world was moving from Epoch A (based on survival and competition) to Epoch B (based on collaboration and meaning). But a global economy that leaves millions behind and is driven by greed, injustice and the "narrowly defined self-interests" that Schwab warns of, makes it harder to move to Epoch B any time soon.

It's telling that a survey of Davos participants found that growing economic disparity is seen as one of the two biggest risks facing the world in the coming decade. In a piece previewing Davos, James Ledbetter, the editor of, describes the growing gulf between the world's rich and poor as "not only immoral, but dangerous, as it can lead to open conflict between nations and internal political turmoil."

Indeed, today, a country's internal economic health is as much a national security issue as the size and quality of a country's army was in the 20th century. The solution, according to Schwab, is an embrace of "basic values and shared norms" that can "guide the decision-making of leaders and help ensure inclusive rather than exclusive outcomes."

As part of the push for inclusive outcomes, the forum is once again granting full access to a collection of social entrepreneurs from around the world. This is the 10th year the conference has offered a platform to what it considers "voices from the ground." But there is something different this time around. In the past, social entrepreneurship and efforts at developing civil society were the Davos equivalent of icing on the banker/CEO/head-of-state cake. Now they are an essential ingredient, baked into the cake.

This shift stems from the growing sense, even among the elites, that our current political and economic systems are inadequate to the task of addressing the multiple crises the world is facing. As Schwab puts it, "One thing is certain: We can't keep doing the same old thing in a new era that requires new responses."

There's an IdeasLab featuring Marissa Mayer of Google, the Crown Prince of Norway, and "young global leaders," including Calvin Chin, the CEO of Qifang, a Shanghai-based online community that helps poor Chinese students pay for college, and Allon Raiz, CEO of Raizcorp, a South African company that helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses. Among the topics to be discussed: "promoting transparency in government, business and civil society."

The overarching theme of this year's forum is "Shared Norms for the New Reality." Among the shared norms Schwab highlighted in his opening remarks is "collective sacrifice." It's a notion that has been conspicuously missing from America's political dialogue -- even in the face of the economic hardships of the last two-plus years. As David Leonhardt recently noted in The New York Times, countries like Germany and Canada have avoided mass layoffs by cutting hours and pay for everyone, while the notion of shared sacrifice has failed to catch on among our political leaders.

That's why the parts of President Obama's State of the Union speech that touched on the theme of national unity and renewal were so encouraging. The evocation of another president who faced a crossroads moment, JFK, and the labeling of this pivot point in our history as "another Sputnik moment" were particularly effective.

Crossroads and pivot points.

This is one of those moments when you have the feeling that if we get it wrong, we'll be living in a very different world. From Davos to D.C., it's clear that the world is in need of big ideas. Let's hope the president, and those business and government leaders gathering a continent away, rise to the challenge.