What has Davos done for us?

January 20, 2011

DAVOS/For more than four decades, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has pitched its annual shindig in Davos as a chance for powerful leaders in business, politics, media and academia to convene in one spot to trade ideas on how to solve the pressing global problems of the day.

And for about as long, critics have dismissed the invitation-only event as nothing more than a glorified networking get-together for elites, or, as U2 singer Bono once called it, a meeting of “fat cats in the snow”.

But are critics right to so quickly trash the Davos meeting? Haven’t there been at least a few tangible achievements along the way?

The WEF itself thinks so. It claims some notable successes over the years, particularly on the diplomatic front. A draft agreement on Gaza and Jericho was hammered out by Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat at the 1994 meeting, according to the WEF’s website.

Davos may have even helped stop a war. At 1988’s meeting, Greece and Turkey turned back from the brink of war over a naval incident in the Mediterranean, producing the so-called “Davos Declaration”. The talks marked the beginning of a rapproachment between the countries.

Add to that a milestone Davos meet-up between East and West German leaders on reunification in 1989 and the first ministerial-level meetings between North and South Korea that same year, and the annual ski-resort pow-wow doesn’t seem like such a superfluous affair after all.

Philanthropists have also used the meeting to announce good deeds and drum up support for initiatives. At last year’s meeting, Bill and Melinda Gates pledged $10 billion over ten years to help develop and deliver vaccines for the world’s poorest countries. In 2006, Gates helped launch a global plan to help stop tuberculosis along with Nigeria’s then-President Olusegun Obasanjo and Britain’s then-Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown.

If it weren’t for Davos, there’s a good chance such a group of individuals may never have gotten together.

Perhaps most exciting of all, the annual meeting gives journalists direct access to the big names.  Reuters Editor-at Large Chrystia Freeland says Davos gives journalists the opportunity to “pounce” on powerful business and political leaders, who are often found strolling around the Swiss retreat free of their usual handlers. Watch the video below for a full discussion about the merits of Davos between Freeland and Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon:

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So, nothing since 1994, then.

Posted by FelixSalmon | Report as abusive