Hoor Asrar briefs about an elite gathering
The 53rd edition of Davos 2023 is the first proper World Economic Forum for three years taking place against a backdrop of global crises both strategic and economic in content. World Economic Forum (WEF) is headquartered in Geneva and is described as an international not-for-profit organization focused on promoting cooperation between the public and private sectors. Founded in 1971 by Swiss-German economist Klaus Schwab, WEF seeks to foster a spirit of collaborative entrepreneurship to address global issues and shape governmental, industry and social agendas. WEF describes itself as a new kind of institution with the adaptability, entrepreneurialism, and stakeholder trust necessary to be a platform with the power to make change. In the run-up to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was fashionable to question the value of the meeting in Davos. But the upheavals and isolation of the pandemic have, to many, underscored its ongoing value and a record turnout is expected in 2023. A record 56 finance ministers are coming to Davos this year and so are 19 governors of central banks.
This year the five-day meeting, which convenes under the banner of “Cooperation in a Fragmented World,” will see over 50 heads of state and governments take part. Among the expected guests are German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. Some recently elected leaders, including South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, Colombian President Gustavo Petro and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines are also expected. The African contingent will be led by President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and President Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania. The US will be represented by President Jo Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, and Trade Representative Katherine Tai. There will be no participation from Russia as the country’s politicians and business leaders remain shunned from the meeting.
To many observers, the value of the Davos meeting is in the human interaction of a multitude of different types of entities—start-ups, nonprofits, governmental organisations, business. There is a lot of talk about a new world order but the fact remains that just being together in person and exchanging ideas increases connectivity. While the spotlight shines bright on the well-known names yet it is the smaller interactions that can mean the most. Since the adoption of its new manifesto in 2020, WEF is formally guided by stakeholder capitalism which posits that a corporation should deliver value not only to shareholders but to all those who have a stake in the destiny of the company, including employees, society, and the planet. Its goals include a commitment to improve the state of the world. WEF partners with many international organizations and corporations to run projects addressing global concerns. This year, collaborations are focused on pursuing a net-zero pathway, nurturing resilience, reimagining globalisation, and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion in every part of society.
Though Davos did hold parleys during the last few years but its proper gathering held in January dubbed as World Economic Forum (WEF) when a highly curated selection of delegates from global business, government, civil society, media and academia converges on this picturesque Swiss town to attend sessions designed to spark fruitful discussions around the most pressing issues of the day. Davos forum is famous for the networking and socialising that goes on in the corridors, side rooms, hotel suites and restaurants of the Alpine town. Some 2,500 delegates and hundreds of others go to Davos during that period, making it perhaps the largest gathering of global decision makers all year. Most Davos veterans are keen on initiating and sustaining connection between clients and consider it as phenomenally important matter.
The events that would dominate this year’s gathering include the lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, war in Ukraine, refugee crisis and increasingly dire climate change. The centre point of discussions at the Forum would be the critical importance of resilience and building it for the globe. The world is reckoning with a new normal, in the aftermath of the pandemic, rising tensions between the United States and China and the continuing devastation caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These factors will push the urge to fathom the nuances of changing global interdependencies and what these mean for the future of a globalised world. As the goal of net zero becomes increasingly urgent, the WEF will be urged to continue working to navigate energy resilience and the net zero transition for governments, companies and other actors.
It appears that the vastness and intensity of such crises will require the elite of Davos to so profound soul-searching with an unraveling world. The vastly disturbing war in Ukraine has caused widespread fragmentation contributing to the rapidly declining economy and has resulted in almost irreversible de-globalisation; the golden age of globalisation in the late 1990s and early 2000s is now a fast-fading memory are all posing serious questions that need to be tackled by the gathering at Davos. They also have to view the highly problematic issue of unprecedented global inflation that has given rise to cost of living. The impact of unpredictable climate change is also a strong issue that would worry the participants of the Davos 2023. The most potent risk faced by Davos gathering is the diminishing optimism it had exhibited in the past and it is feared that the moot this year would be subjected to unbridle gloom. In a way this is what is required to put pressure on the Davos elite to view the situation more realistically and synchronise their perception with the prevailing global scenario.
Though some participants are trying to appear upbeat and are emphasising to get rid of the crisis mindset but it is easier said than done. The prevailing risks to peace, prosperity and the future of the planet have increased so the willingness to cooperate in the forum though in a much more subdued manner. Another issue is that the Davos forum is widely viewed as a privileged and secretive affair with a host of questions raised about its wider relevance and advantage. It is also pointed out that the forum has no executive power whatsoever and is more of a gigantic global talking shop at which world leaders take the opportunity to rub shoulders with each other and executives do deals behind closed doors. The prevailing pattern at Davos is at best a composite of informal gatherings of world’s political and economic leaders and where the proceedings are designed to see if there is a way of coming up with global solutions to global problems. Describing Davos in this light may not be fair as the fact is conveniently ignored that it sets the scene for future course of action by global policy makers that have wider consequences.
In this context many political chief executives have used the Davos forum for mobilising support for global causes and significant issues such as climate change and debt relief are cited in this connection. This time round the Davos forum is to contend with a world which is de-globalising and increasingly fragile. Davos forum could change the gloomy atmosphere by pursuing policies that have less to do with the glorification of the corporate world and reduce the overweening influence of the banking sector so that the issues impacting the less-privileged inhabitants of the world. TW