15 February 2005

If it ever became necessary to brave inclement weather, you might as well go to the source. Why wrap up in below freezing temperature and inch your way through snarled New York traffic when you could be at a snow ski peak in Davos. While dedicated U.N. staff plodded their way to First Avenue, it will be interesting to find out how many senior officials (like heads of Departments, Under Secretary and Assistant Secretaries General) made their getaway this year to the Swiss Alps to focus on helping the world poor. It was no doubt the same spirit that took them earlier on in January to the balmy Mauritius islands to review how best to define the least developed of developing countries.

But then Davos is a class unto its own. Where else could you network (but not work) while rubbing shoulders, perhaps even elbows, with such prominent achievers (and hard workers) like Microsoft's Bill Gates, South Africa's Thabo Mbeke, and Britain's Tony Blair. Where else could you be seen as desperately preoccupied during a session on world poor living on $2 a day while certain that the dinner that follows will have at least three types of smoked fish? Where else would you have a choice between hugging Angelina Jolie and listening to a lecture about "How Responsible is Responsible Enough?"

Aspiring participants should know the drill by now. There is no point just saying hello. Real achievers don't eat quiche, nor do they have time to shoot the breeze. Besides, they are rushing between 190 meetings in 5 days. It is imperative, then, to secure a room at the Steinberger Belvedere. Merely lounging in its manicured lobby could get you closer to being perceived as something of a power broker. If that proved impossible, the Kongress Hotel would be a fair alternative. It may mark you as something of a crossover. But then why not? Most participants pay a small fortune to crossover -- that is if they didn't know how to persuade Mr. Attias. He's the overall fixer of places, spaces and such. You also have to be included in the exclusively secure email circuit. Otherwise you're out of the loop. About three years ago, vengeful nerds broke down the code and used precious credit card numbers to purchase valuable software equipment and expensive warm clothing. This year, security codes were tighter and more exclusive. Bill Gates should know. So should the relatively obscure but filthy rich businessman who discovered how much the whiz kids charged to his name in the stores of Geneva and Milan.

When the enterprising Professor Schwab and his brilliant team were trying to accumulate the widest possible international stature for their Forum, a number of U.N. officials got a free ride. Some of them were even pumped up with titles like "future leader," "decision maker," or "media guider." With the current clamour for attendance and hardly any space at the Belvedere or Kongress, those with suddenly deflated egos have to cough up $37,600 in annual fees. Otherwise, the Swiss Mantra will clearly apply: "First Come, First Served." That is a polite version of our neighbourhood Chinese firm mantra: "No tickie, no laundry." Since in these scandal ridden days, it will be too daring to have the "tickie" covered from U.N. budget or a U.N. supportive fund, the dirty linen would not withstand further public exposure. Only the most shameless self promoter would do so.