The Davos Rookie

January 23, 2012

I’m going to level with you. I have little more than a vague idea of what I’ve gotten myself into here. An assembly of heads of state, titans of industry, the cliched 1%. I feel a bit like a fish out of water. What on earth is someone like me going to do among these power brokers?

I’ve got questions, for sure. What, if anything, has been accomplished as a result of the World Economic Forum since its inception? Going by Mohamed El-Erian’s assessment, it seems not much. I don’t say this out of malice. It seems like a well-intentioned idea to bring together people who have the power to effect change in the world. Nobody is expecting them to solve the euro zone crisis over the course of a week, but have they seized that opportunity because of coming here? I arrive with an open mind but a skeptical pair of eyes.

Are there examples we can point to where a Davos meeting led to the brokering of some improvement in the world? Perhaps we may never know. Many meetings here happen behind closed doors, out of the sight of nosy press like me.

It’s far easier today than ever before for people to tap into what is occuring in nearly any part of the world, directly from the people living there, without the filter of media or government. It’s easier for the people within those same places to communicate and organize among themselves. People who were previously unseen and unheard now have a voice. It’s a very disruptive development for gatekeepers. Some may even be wondering if they really hold as much power as they think.

The upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa over the last year has proven, once more, that leaders are only as in control as the people they govern allow them to be. That may sound a bit hyperbolic, as things are still very much in flux, but few predicted how far the citizens of these countries have already come, how many leaders would fall, and with potentially more on the way.

Maybe that’s the lesson those at the WEF should heed: to consider listening a bit harder not just to their fellow attendees, but to the people they’ve left behind.

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Hi Anthony, good to have you in Davos and hope you leave with a better idea of what the Meeting is all about. The theme of this year’s Meeting – The Great Transformation: Shaping New Models – reflects the huge sense of upheaval that you mention. The old, top-down power structures no longer work and the Forum will be bringing together a range of people to find new ways of doing things. This year we’ll be welcoming Hammadi Jebali, the new Prime Minister of Tunisia, Giorgio Jackson, a leader of the student movement in Chile, and a whole network of “global shapers”, a new hub of young leaders and social entrepreneurs who want to change the world around them. We’re constantly looking to bring the latest voices to the table.

You ask what the Forum has accomplished, and it’s a fair question. The explicit aim of Davos is to provide a platform for discussion, not decisions, but that doesn’t mean that the Meeting doesn’t generate some extraordinary achievements. At last year’s Davos, Bill Gates announced a US$ 100 million fund to help wipe out polio. In 1992, Nelson Mandela unveiled his vision of a post-apartheid South Africa in Davos, shaking hands with South African President F. W. de Klerk in their first joint appearance outside South Africa. In the 1970s, Jacques Cousteau brought the environmentalist cause to the world’s attention.

It’s no surprise that the Forum is best known for Davos, although our work goes on all round the year. Forum initiatives include Deworm the World, which has treated more than 17 million children in India, and The Green Growth Partnerships Initiative, which is helping India to develop its solar energy industry. Representatives from all these initiatives will be in Davos, meeting people and moving their work forwards.

We hope you enjoy the Meeting and find time to meet some of the Forum’s new faces, along with the traditional power brokers.

Ceri Parker (World Economic Forum communications team)

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