| By Rajitha Swaminathan |
Davos is Vegas for geeks. Vegas has neon lights and opulence, Davos has altitude and snow; Vegas has fancy restaurants with food from around the world, Davos has a single large cafeteria hall. Instead of torch singers and showgirls, Davos has speeches and seminars. And while higher rollers come to Vegas to make bets, the financial experts come to Davos to make predictions.
￼The World Economic Forum (WEF) is a five-day meeting where 2500 of the world’s top business leaders join with heads of states and academic heavyweights to solve the problems staring all 7 billion of us in the face. Or at least give it a try.
The mission and raison d’etre of the WEF is being ‘Committed to improving the state of the world.’ The Forum tackles issues across six major areas: economic growth, environmental sustainability, financial systems, health for all and social development.
Too many world-changing events have taken place in the last year that are bound to have implications in 2012 – the Arab Spring, the European Crisis, Occupy Wall Street, the explosion of the internet and social media and life-shattering natural calamities. The WEF sought to identify challenges thrown by these events and ways to circumvent the problems they pose.
At Davos, you can pull up your chair at Bill Gates’ table and ask him for advice about how to scale up your new tuberculosis vaccination camp or listen to the Mayor of London talk about how he is going to manage the budget of this summer’s Olympic Games. You might even bump into Timothy Geithner in the cafeteria and take your chance to grill him about the state of the US economy.
Governments have generally come to Davos to sing their own praises and showcase their successes. This year felt different. Most of the big stars – the mighty US, the proud EU, and the emerging BRIC nations – looked pale at best. What optimism could be found came from an unlikely source: Africa. The continent’s leaders were bullish on Africa’s future prospects for peace, development, and business.
Representatives of SIPA were also in attendance. Professor of Economics Joseph Stiglitz, a WEF regular, shared ideas on how to address wage stagnations and unemployment. He emphasized the importance of technological change that aims at reducing resources rather than reducing labor. IMAC director Anya Schiffrin provided a completely different perspective of the proceedings. Her blog explored the various indignities suffered by the wives, mistresses, and girlfriends of Davos men.
It is wrong to expect five days in Switzerland to provide instant answers to all the world’s problems. But getting together the best minds in the same place to discuss them and their solutions? Not such a bad start.
A Few Good Words:
Morgan Stanley, CEO and Chairman James Gorman on lower compensation and capping of bonuses for those on Wall Street:
“The world has changed.” But to anyone still grumbling, he adds, “I say, you’re naive. Read the newspaper, number 1. Number 2, if you put your compensation in a one-year context to define your overall level of happiness, you’ve got a problem which is much bigger than the job. And number 3, if you are really unhappy, just leave. I mean, life’s too short.”
Guillermo Ortiz, governor of the Mexican Central Bank, recalling earlier financial crisis:
“I’m glad that this time we did not cause it.”
Klaus Schwab, Founder of the WEF:
“Davos Man is not this caricature of the rich and powerful person. Davos Man is a person who, as I define it, should be concerned with the present state of the world and who should be ready to engage and contribute so that the state of the world is improved.”
Thomas Friedman, on predictions for 2012:
“Drip, drip, drip’ is history. Now it’s ‘tweet, tweet, tweet’. But at the end of the day ‘bang, bang, bang’ beats ‘tweet, tweet, tweet’; and game over.”
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Rajitha Swaminathan is a first-year Master of International Affairs student. This article first appeared in the February 16, 2012 issue of Communiqué.