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
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.