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Good-bye from Davos

  • Tim Weber
  • 28 Jan 07, 06:16 PM

It’s been a pretty intense week for Richard and me, with early starts, hard work and little sleep. I think I’ve averaged four-and-a-half hours a night.

But as every year Davos has provided an almighty buzz, even though the event failed to deliver some of the expected surprises.

You see, here it’s all relative. What might seem flat to the old hands is still one of the most exciting events around.

I’ve written this before, but the amazing thing about Davos is that everybody you meet has a great story to tell.

Today, for example, when I was on the mountain railway to go the Schatzalp hotel for the traditional farewell lunch, I began to chat with an Indian gentleman who turned out to be in charge of Mukand, a huge Indian manufacturing and financial services group.

He told me about the huge turnaround of Indian manufacturing during the past six or seven years. “Back then we would not have been able to compete with international rivals,” he told me, “but today Indian manufacturers can compete with the best.”

This is a little told story, and when I’m back in London I will make sure that it will feature in our current excellent series on globalisation. Just have a look at this great article on India's IT services industry written by our globalisation reporter, Steve Schifferes.

So that’s it from Davos.

It was the first time we’ve run a proper blog from here, in the hope to give you a bit more of a rounded picture – not just the news and features, but also the observations and notes that (hopefully) help you to understand what’s happening at the World Economic Forum.

Let us know whether you liked it, and what you would have preferred to see more of.


Recent entries

The Little Britain show

  • Tim Weber
  • 28 Jan 07, 11:23 AM

Three UK jobseekers have been haunting Davos this week.

One wants to relocate, the other wants a promotion, and the third will soon be unemployed.

So did coming to Davos improve the chances of David Cameron to switch to the other side of the house and become prime minister, for Gordon Brown to prepare himself for the very same job, and for Tony Blair to find meaningful work once he becomes an elder statesman later this year?

One US newspaper was unkind enough to call it the “Little Britain” show.

Tony Blair certainly managed to make the best of it. A slightly sceptical businessman I talked to called the prime minister’s wide-ranging speech “the longest job advert I’ve ever seen”.

But the majority in the Congress Hall just fell in love with the prime minister, who received the longest applause I’ve heard here for quite some time, and a rare standing ovation.

It all felt very emotional. Was that the glint of a tear in Mr Blair’s eyes at the end of his speech?

But will he get that job? “Not with Iraq hanging around his neck,” sniffed a Davos regular.

Mr Brown, meanwhile, positioned himself to participate in sessions that gave him a chance to show that he is on top of what would be a prime minister’s brief.

If only his advisers would tell him to speak a bit slower when in Davos. Many people’s mother tongue here is not English.

And finally David Cameron. The Davos organisers love to invite up-and-coming politicians in opposition, just in case they really make it to the pinnacle of power.

It doesn’t always work. US senator John McCain was presented as “possibly the next US president” – yet again.

For Mr Cameron, the debutante, it was more a question of getting his face known, and he took to the stage in several of the biggest sessions.

It probably was not a breakthrough, but then he’s still got one or two Davos’ to attend before he gets his chance to apply for the top job.

The Google ticket

  • Tim Weber
  • 28 Jan 07, 08:41 AM

Looking back at the past week, what was the hottest ticket in town?

Undoubtedly the Google party on Friday night.

The party was so packed that shortly after its start the organisers had to engage in strict crowd control at the entrance.

Once inside people were craning necks to see Sergey Brin and Larry Page making the rounds, who tried to explain how to stick the colourful flashing Google badges to people’s shirts (look, there are two magnets at the back here).

To a select few they even distributed the most exclusive tickets in town: The Google founders invited a small group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs to fly back to California on board their executive jet.

Does that mean Google is about to buy you, I ask one of them. He hesitates briefly: “No, but would you refuse an invitation to fly home on a private Boeing 767?”

Err, probably not. Now, where did I leave my copy of the BBC editorial guidelines? It has a chapter on that sort of thing...

Social networking, web 2.0

  • Tim Weber
  • 27 Jan 07, 01:10 PM

Now there are not that many places that can have this panel on social networks and web 2.0:
YouTube's Chad Hurley;
Microsoft founder Bill Gates;
Caterina Fake, founder of Flickr;
Nike chief executive Mark Parker;
and EU commissioner Viviane Reding.

Ok, it would take me ages to explain web 2.0, let's just say it is about internet users participating in the generation of content, and interacting with what is out there - wikipedia has a better explainer.

But is web 2.0 more than a slogan? Is it all just hype? Is it more than an opportunity for people to embarrass themselves when they upload videos of their parties? ... to quote just a few of the questions put to the panel.

And most importantly: Will web 2.0 turn into bust 2.0?

Bill Gates asks "when was there a bust?" The net investment in the industry continues to grow, he says, the number of PCs sold has steadily grown.

He points to website, which would never have made it on to news stands as a magazine, but is finding its audience online.

For companies web 2.0 means that they can get constant input from their customers.

Nike's Mark Parker says that "we’re getting a lot of insights,that we wouldn’t have got".
It's “Incredibly exciting, powerful collective intelligence”. And it is leaking into the real world, with customers designing and ordering their own sports shoes.

And as this is a business conference, it is not just about users creating their own world, it has also been noted that the interaction of web 2.0 will revolutionise advertising, because it will be highly personal and targetted.

YouTube's Chad Hurley says that what he is working on right now - and says "pre-roll" adverts (played before a clip) should not be longer than three seconds max.

And pay attention YouTubers: Chad says that they may soon share ad income with people who upload their own videos in an attempt to "support creativity".

Ms Reding says governments should stay well out of the internet, but should act to get rid of "territorialisation of internet rights". Governments should be the enablers who make the internet happen, and she said the EU would speak up for net neutrality - which would give everybody equal access to the web. That would stop internet service providers to favour the traffic from high-paying customers.

Bill Gates: Aid does work

  • Tim Weber
  • 27 Jan 07, 10:40 AM

Richard has already done a good write-up of the breakfast with Bill and Melinda Gates.

I just wanted to add two points:
When asked whether a lot of money spent on aid was wasted, Bill got really passionate. Of course some aid projects were unsuccessful or misguided, but that didn't mean that aid doesn't work, he said.

"That would be a bit like saying Silicon Valley is unsuccessful because 70% of companies there fail," he said and pointed to the millions of people saved - for example 2.3 million lives saved just through Gavi, the vaccination campaign backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Oh, and one other thing. Put aside your feelings about Bill Gates, Microsoft, Windows and all the rest.

The man's command of facts and detail is astounding. Talking about aid in the developing world he knows how fertiliser is distributed in certain provinces of Nigeria (which hurts farmers) and can recall detailed statistics about mortality rates for certain diseases in specific countries.

I wonder whether the development and aid sector knows what will hit them once he directs most of his energies on his charitable work, after he semi-retires from Microsoft in 2008.

How was it for you?

  • Richard Sambrook
  • 27 Jan 07, 09:50 AM

I blogged earlier this week about some NGOs feeling left out of some of the big discussions here. Since then others have approached me to say the same thing - "It's returned to a corporate conversation" they claim. One academic, who has moderated and spoken on a number of panels, said he felt he was there solely for the benefit of the corporate delegates rather than for his own benefit.

Certainly this is the most blogged Forum ever - wildly so at times - and the organisers are hoping that will have brought diversity to the conversation. But another academic complained that even the blogging was corporate.

Others, however, say it was ever thus. "Every year people say it's not like it was - and what do people expect? In the end it's the big corporations that pay and make the event possible."

As Gordon Brown said yesterday, the challenge for politicians today is to have an inclusive discussion about the big issues facing the world - no more smoke filled rooms. The WEF, since the sometimes violent protests of the 1990s, has struggled to find the right way to do so while preserving a secure environment for decision makers and leaders. However a degree of scepticism about the conference is inevitable - and it's true that the real discussions here still happen off stage and out of sight.

For my part, the opportunity to bring the debate and views of the world's decision makers to our weekly audience of 200 million people around the world makes it a unique and valuable occasion. Coupled with that, I am able to have discussions with potential editorial partners and sponsors for our commercial services that would otherwise take months to hold. And I leave better informed than when I arrived and, yes I admit it, even inspired by some of what I've heard - particularly from the social entrepreneurs working on practical solutions to the world's problems.

The real test of it, of course, is not what people say in the rarified alpine air - but what they go back and do afterwards.

Women are the answer

  • Richard Sambrook
  • 27 Jan 07, 08:20 AM

A theme emerged in Bill and Melinda Gates discussion of the work of their Foundation. Melinda Gates said it was clear that solutions had to be placed in the hands of women in developing countries. "A lot of the tragedy falls on women", said Bill, and Melinda pointed out that 60% of those who are HIV positive in Africa are women. Their experience was that providing tools and potential solutions to women was more effective than working with men in the poorest areas.
This chimes with the work of the Barefoot College which I wrote about earlier in the week. The college only works with women, teaching them to become solar engineers in 6 months and sending them back to provide power to their villages. They too believe women are more effective in providing solutions.
And even the off-centre psychotherapy session with Dagmar O'Connor suggested that an individual's relationship with their mother can have a profound impact on their future life. But we all knew that already, didnt we?

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