The singer was joined by Cate Blanchett and Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan in receiving Crystal Awards at a ceremony in the Swiss village, where world leaders are gathering for the annual meeting.
John urged delegates at Davos to work on improving the state of the world. He said: “The world needs to be changed - the inequality in the world is, to be honest, disgraceful.”
The musician, who is believed to be worth almost £300m, said he became a philanthropist because he had “lost who he had become” and “wanted to be a decent person”.
Australian Blanchett was honoured for her work with people who have fled their homes, while Khan's award was in recognition of his work championing the rights of children and women in India.
Blanchett, who was named a goodwill ambassador for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in 2016, warned of the consequences if more was not done to help people forced to flee their homes.
"Lost generations of uneducated, disenfranchised and displaced children not only represent a vast loss of potential but also a threat for future global security and prosperity," she said.
World leaders including Donald Trump and Theresa May are all expected to speak at the WEF, which runs from Tuesday to Friday.
The US government shutdown had cast some doubt on whether Trump might actually come - the wider US delegation's departure was delayed due to the shutdown. But with Congress moving Monday to reopen the government, the White House said that barring some unforeseen snag, the delegation would travel Tuesday and the president later in the week.