If you read several articles published over the past few days, you’d be forgiven for thinking it is not much more than a junket for the jet-set. The reality is that it is a working meeting that brings together representatives from diverse groups to try and collectively figure out a way out of the mess the world’s in at the moment. Let’s take a look at some of those criticisms in more detail.
Davos is an echo chamber: Echo chambers, metaphorically speaking, are places where the same ideas and beliefs tend to get circulated and amplified. As an international institution for public-private cooperation, we strongly support the idea that all stakeholder groups and all countries should work together to solve challenges that affect our collective future, so a little bit of repetition should be expected.
But what we are above all is a meeting of leaders. Leaders from businesses, governments, NGOs, the arts and many other areas. As things change over time so do the people who attend our meeting. This year, for example, we will welcome our largest ever delegation from China. There will be more leaders from Europe elected on ‘populist’ tickets and there will be supporters and advisers of President-Elect Trump alongside outgoing members of the current President’s administration. It’s hard to imagine a more diverse range of ideas and beliefs when you come to think of it.
Davos is out of Touch: Davos may be a small Alpine town but the people who participate in our Annual Meeting come from all walks of life and all over the world. This year, a third of participants come from neither business nor government and a further third come from outside Europe and North America. Social entrepreneurs - people who see a problem in their community and go about solving it - are playing a prominent role in the programme. People you might not expect to see at Davos include Yusra Mardini, a Syrian refugee who swam for her life, then swam in the Olympics, and now campaigns for dignity for refugees; Jaideep Bansal, an Indian entrepreneur who is helping remote villages in the Himalayas switch on the lights for the first time, and Winnie Byanyima, the head of Oxfam, who informs our discussions on inequality.
The world is changing in other ways, too: generational divides in many parts of the world have never seemed wider. To ensure that younger generations are not left out of decision making as they too often are, we invite over a 150 Global Shapers (20-30 year olds) and Young Global Leaders (30-40 years old).
Davos always get things wrong: Back in 1996, two years after the North America Free Trade Agreement came into effect and six years before the launch of the Euro, the World Economic Forum’s founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab published an oped in the International Herald Tribune warning of the excesses of globalization and the need for a more human-centric model of global economic growth.
More recently, in 2012 our Global Risks Report highlighted income inequality as the number one risk facing the world – a year before we drew attention to a little-known problem called digital wildfires – a fear that cyberspace could become awash with fake news and misinformation.
In 2016, our theme around the onset of the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been discussed in thousands of news articles, conferences and television shows and Professor Schwab’s book on the subject has sold 300,000 copies and been published in 13 languages.
Davos is all talk: People that come to Davos like to talk, there’s no question about that. But we’ve never had a problem with this: you have to start somewhere. Davos is a working meeting for more than 50 Forum-led projects and countless more led by members of our community. In the past year, initiatives launched in Davos have helped protect virgin rainforest in Africa, develop vaccines for future pandemics and prepare the city of Boston for self-driving cars.
Davos is about globalization at all costs: The Forum has always argued for greater global cooperation to address common challenges. But when it comes to the globalization of markets we have always been consistent that economic growth cannot happen without social development, and vice versa. Growth should raise people out of poverty in developing markets and avoid creating inequalities within developed countries. Market capitalism has clearly failed in the latter respect and the top priority of this year’s Meeting is to agree on a new model of growth that corrects these failings. Our own contribution to the discussion is the Inclusive Growth and Development Report, a toolkit for policymakers to enable them to adapt to a new model for national growth and achievement.
Davos participants are hypocrites – championing the environment and flying in private jets: The Zurich region does see an uptick in private air travel during the Annual Meeting but not as much as one might think. We estimate the growth in traffic to be 10% on top of a normal working day. We’d rather this wasn’t the case but most private flights are used by ministers and heads of state rather than business leaders. Whether they arrive by private jet or commercial air liner, as part of our effort to make the Annual Meeting as sustainable as possible, we offset the air travel of every participant and staff member.