Davos 2011: Who needs a World Economic Forum?
- 24 January 2011
- From the section Business
Every year some of the world's most powerful people come to the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos.
It's quite a trek to this remote valley in the Swiss mountains, so what's the draw? Tim Weber, the business editor of our website, explains:
What is the point of Davos?
For the participants of Davos the answer is straightforward: The WEF's annual meeting is a great place to talk, think and get fresh ideas. After all, the five-day conference is packed with 239 sessions, ranging from serious geopolitics and business issues to cutting edge science and even the whimsical, such as a lesson on Shakespearean leadership.
And then there's the networking. Put 2,500 business leaders, top politicians and clever academics in one place and let the schmoozing begin. If you're going, or want to know what you're missing, here's our beginners' guide to Davos.
But even for those outside looking in, Davos can have a purpose. The forum is a great opportunity to take the global temperature, pinpoint problems and get a feel for trends and new ideas. The UN's former deputy secretary general, Lord Malloch-Brown calls it the "world's grandest focus group".
And it's not all a talking shop. In previous years, especially during times of political tension, Davos provided the opportunity for foes to meet discretely, and in some cases even prepare the ground for peace.
So what are this year's big issues?
The WEF organisers are prone to give their annual meetings quite ponderous mottos. This year they've settled on "Shared norms for a new reality".
Here's a translation: India, and especially China, are the up-and-coming superpowers, so how will we cope? The agenda is overflowing with sessions examining the shift of the power balance from West to East, and from North to South (think Brazil).
And then there's the global economy. The past three meetings in Davos were dominated by the gloom and doom of the credit crunch and economic downturn. Bankers, hedge funds and all other things that are capitalism incarnate were fingered as scapegoats. This year, the organisers believe, it's time to look ahead and focus on the recovery. Don't forget that most Asian economies didn't experience a downturn, they just saw growth slow a bit.
Finally, there are plenty of opportunities to discuss the usual gamut of risks and problems: poverty in the developing world; climate change; the eurozone crisis; cybersecurity and the social impact of the digital world.
That all sounds very high-minded...
Yes it does. And many participants are quite serious about the WEF's official slogan: "Committed to improving the state of the world."
But let's get real. Davos is not just talk and hard work, it's also about socialising and having fun, whether it is on the ski slopes all around this mountain resort, or during the many private dinners and parties that stretch into the wee hours.
The parties, by the way, are a pretty good indicator of the state of the economy - or the image of austerity that their hosts want to project.
Before the economic crisis, some parties were bordering on the excessive. Since 2007, most companies hosting parties have cut back, or turned big public events into ultra-exclusive private dinners.
The Google and KPMG parties are probably still the best place to watch millionaires and billionaires have a good time.
Is Davos still a good place for some celebrity spotting?
If you mean showbiz celebrities, you may have to look elsewhere.
The days when the likes of Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Michael Douglas, Richard Gere and Sharon Stone drew the attention of the media (and Davos participants) are long gone.
But if you don't fancy CEO spotting, there are still a few stars. There will be Davos regulars Bono, Peter Gabriel and Paulo Coelho, plus opera singer Jose Carreras, and actor and director Robert de Niro, both newcomers this year.
The real stars of the event, however, are politicians and business leaders such as Bill Gates, Google's Sergey Brin and Eric Schmidt, Bill Clinton, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev, and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.
The event is invitation-only, and companies who send their top brass to the Swiss mountains have to pay a chunky fee.
The forum has been around for quite a while, hasn't it?
This is the 41st annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, although it's name is more recent. The event started life as the European Management Symposium, the brainchild of a German professor of management studies, Klaus Schwab. Devised as an opportunity for chief executives to get together and swap tips for running a company and ideas about the state of the economy, it has evolved into one of the world's top networking events.
The Swiss mountain village of Davos has nearly always been the host to the event, which is now one of the top money earners for the region.
If you want to discover more, read up on ten things that you didn't know about Davos.