Davos Notebook

Celebrities and handshakes – is the WEF really working?

By Guest Contributor
January 14, 2011

-Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is a British author, blogger, and advisor on technology, globalisation and corporate change, based in São Paulo, Brazil. The opinions expressed are his own.-

DAVOS AIDSThe World Economic Forum returns to Davos next week for the annual round of handshakes and backslapping between world leaders and A-list celebrities that aim to solve the major problems of the world. But when this blog (http://blogs.reuters.com/davos/2011/01/13/is-davos-still-relevant/) asked readers if the annual WEF meeting in Davos is still relevant, more than two-thirds of you said that times have changed and little will be achieved.

That seems a harsh judgement from the blog readers, so I asked my own network of online friends on Twitter (www.twitter.com/markhillary) and Facebook what they think.

Of course, mine is an unscientific survey that no academic could ever support – negative feelings tend to run higher and attract more comment than positive – but my own network agreed that little will be achieved in Davos – a full 100% of people who sent me a comment supported that view.

Some typical responses were: “Davos still counts because no one expects it to do anything”, “Stop the drama… take the hundreds of millions of expenses and develop a hundred target villages [in India]”, “I never noticed it was Davos time because I have yet to read the poor Doctor Who puns in the media”, “annual lame duck sessions that only project and boost their narcissistic, bloated egos….”

The World Economic Forum believes that the only way to create real social and economic change is to get the major decision-makers together so they can plan a future political, economic, social, and technological agenda. In a way, they have a point. Have you ever tried working virtually with people you don’t know? The team in another country that your boss insists you work with. Once you go and meet those same people, share a dinner or meet their family, what happens to your working relationship?

SHOWBIZIt improves dramatically, just because you met the people and experienced a real interaction with them as fellow humans. That makes for a more efficient workplace where decisions can be taken together. It is natural for all of us to work better and be more agreeable with people we know, rather than the unknown voice at the end of a telephone line or email address.

But is the WEF format really working?

In the past few years we have seen the global economy crash and burn to levels never previously imaginable. European and American banks and insurance companies have been nationalized just to prevent a total implosion of national economies. Charities face a reduction in supporters and disease continues to rampage across the world, not only south of the equator, but also in wealthy developed countries. This week, Brazil is coping with more than five hundred deaths caused by heavy rain and flooding, Australia has seen floods so extensive that were a similar area to flood in Europe it would submerge all of France and Germany.

So the human race still faces ongoing natural disasters that apparently cannot be prevented. We are no closer to saving the environment than we were a few years back when Al Gore preached from our cinema screens. We have seen the near-collapse of popular capitalism, street riots in Europe, politicians gunned down in the USA, and due to the ongoing economic uncertainty individuals are even less likely to help those who really need help.

Welcome to the twenty-first century. Is an expensive meeting of politicians, business leaders, and film stars really going to address any of these issues – that go to the very heart of democratic society -or is the belief that their discussion can now be even more relevant and pertinent than ever?

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