January 24th, 2011
05:56 PM GMT
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It is easy to take pot-shots at the World Economic Forum in Davos. As most of the developed world groans its way back to growth, there is something a bit obscene about rich, famous and powerful people getting together on a Swiss mountain side to talk about how to make things better.  It has a ring of “let them eat cake” about it.

This year’s jamboree will add fuel to the fire - with a large new Congress Centre entrance, with oodles of lights.

But as I say every year - that ignores what happens here.  I don’t for one moment think that the sometimes pretentiously titled panels are really what this event is about.  (Some are without doubt interesting and stimulate thought and debate, but you don’t need to schlep to Switzerland in winter to do that.)

Rather, Davos is about access, meetings, talking and schmoozing, which is why the most important rooms here are not the big halls where tedious panels will take place, but the bilateral rooms where government ministers and CEOs meet each other.

There is nothing as vulgar as a deal being done - that isn’t what Davos is about. Rather there is a handshake, a knowing nod, a sharing of understanding about future plans. It’s more: “I am doing this. What are you doing and how can we help each other?”  Davos becomes neutral territory where opponents can chat.  One top CEO told me that he meets all his top clients over the course of a week.

With so much firepower in this one place, there is also the chance for the global agenda to be clarified. Leaders make speeches. CEOs set out their thoughts. Activists present their protests. But by the time we all leave at the end of the week we have a good idea of what the issues in 2011 will be and how they will be tackled.

Last year the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said he wouldn’t need a bailout (he would and he did). We all left Davos knowing sovereign debt would be a growing problem and that there was no real plan to tackle it.  Basel III wasn’t discussed much during the plenary sessions and panels, but it was the talking point of the coffee bars.  Financial reform was on everyone’s agenda and eventually became law.

Perhaps where Davos tries, and some think fails, is when it attempts to become all things to all people.  There is nothing sadder than Davos trying to become modern and ending up looking like your parents disco dancing.  This year the congress bristles with social networking lounges, risk response network centres, social leaders, global young leaders, global young entrepreneurs, CEO tweeters and networking lounges galore.  Much of this is nonsense.  The real decision-makers will be having nothing of it and will be closeted away in their bilateral rooms and salons at nearby hotels. Most of us need only a coffee bar and an internet connection. Leave the jargon to the kids.

Davos would be wise to remember why it works. It creates an environment where like-minded people can meet and eat. A hot-house in the cold of winter where, every now and then, something actually gets done.

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soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. J Korhonen

    Richard,
    I hope your coverage of Davos 2011 will be as splendid and titillating as always! Please take stunning and mesmerizing Ayesha with you. http://twitter.com/krhn80

    January 25, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  2. Jan Joosten, Davos

    The motto of WEF is "committed to improving the state of the world" I believe it should have been changed a long time ago in " committed to improving the state of the rich". There will be no better world when we refuse to share and end our greedy attitude.

    January 25, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  3. cnn censors

    "You have been blocked from commenting on this site!" CNN = China News Network

    http://bit.ly/twitterybs

    January 25, 2011 at 10:52 am |
  4. John Witters

    Davos is a tremendous opportunity to realise a new reality as Richard puts it. The new reality is not more work but smarter work, look forward to a new wave of change throughout Africa started by Tunisia just like Poland ended USSR. The new and fascinating area is Africa Change. I urge CNN to put microscope on Africa especially smaller Islands in Africa where change is coming and badly needed. I agree with J Corhonen that Richard should take Ayesha Durgahee with him as they would make a formidable double act on Africa. Wake up CNN.

    January 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
  5. John witters

    Wealth distribution and fair opportunities to the mass are critical factors for Davos. Sme,s should be facilitated to speed up wealth creation and to create new jobs for our youths to use their talents and kills. Davos should be a springboard for fairer society otherwise we will continue to see bottom-up reforms like in Egypt

    January 29, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  6. George Lekatis

    I find the meetings in Davos very important, as they close some of the gaps of the G20 decisions.

    Example: In November 2010, the Financial Stability Board (FSB) and the G20 endorsed the Basel III Accord. The Basel Committee has developed the framework. And what has happened in Davos?

    I read in the summary prepared by William Dowell:

    "While the Basel III Accord dealt with efforts to create international norms for financial regulation, the fact is that each country adds its own regulatory framework to the mix. The result is an overly complex financial environment that works against efforts to stimulate the economy and promote future growth. The trend to overemphasize regulation to prevent future crises also overlooks the fact that the crisis in 2007-2008 was an exceptional event.

    An analogy can be made to aircraft seat belts. It makes sense to have the best safety belts possible just as it makes sense to make rational rules for banking but, in the case of passenger airplanes, it makes even more sense to invest in an effective air traffic control system that prevents a crash from happening in the first place. In the case of the financial system, establishing a consistent international structure is likely to be even more crucial than focusing on individual banks. The difficulty in harmonizing the international system is that each country needs to deal with its own domestic political reality, and that inevitably takes precedence over international agreements."

    George Lekatis
    http://www.basel-ii-accord.com

    February 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
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    September 24, 2012 at 11:49 am |

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