15 MARCH 2016


Professor Klaus Schwab deserves at least a public relations credit. It has become fashionable for most world officials, business leaders and selected media to brag about Davos in January. Thousands of participants pay more than $100,000 just to be there, and of course be seen and preferably be prominently counted. By now, several TV stations, including C-Span, devote almost full-time to some of their debates.

From a UN perspective, it is not only the Secretary-General who is by now a regular participant, but several other heads of agencies and programs, moving amongst presumed decision-makers who are not always clearly defined. It is like being famous for being famous, or, in this case, being influential for seeming to be influential. In one seminar, for example, a moderator, Espen Barth Eide, was identified as a Davos official, although he holds the title of Special Advisor of the UN Secretary-General on Cyprus. In fact, Mr. Eide was initially intended to be the Special Representative in Cyprus, but when the conflict of interest with his full-time work in Davos was raised, his title was "redecorated."

Despite media reports, whatever happens in Davos stays in Davos, perhaps because, except for networking, very little actually does happen. In fact, not all of those who go to Davos actually go to Davos:

  1. There is separate attendance in selected hotels, each indicating the degree of payments and the level of importance. The real noted selection stay in an exclusive hotel, where entry is very restricted. Those who seem to matter are given special laptops or computers to contact one another without intrusion, except from occasional break-ins from curious computer geeks who are mainly interested in the credit cards of rich, yet relatively unknown visitors.
  2. There are different commitments. Certain visitors drop by for a day and leave after making their required impact, while others hang around, seeking to explore whatever opportunities are available.
  3. There is a difference in physical presence; although the heads of delegations may be placed somewhere, their assistants are placed elsewhere. Some of the columnists earnestly covering Davos are placed along the outskirts of the town. Although there is a close connection between Davos and the town of Kloster, there is actually a significant difference in location. Some may be skiing, while others may be clustered into a heated bed and breakfast.

Although Davos has inspired several reactions by grassroots groups who form their own peoples' forums on various continents, from Brazil to India, holding meetings in Davos is much more constructive than subsidizing fighters and mistreating refugees. Obviously, the World Economic Forum, which is its official name, has become a place where political tension could be relatively released and managing conflicts could be explored, although mainly in theory.

If on the side the forum brings in loads of profit and allows some business leaders to go skiing at the expense of their shareholders, that is another matter. If Professor Klaus is gaining more importance and relevance, more power to him.