Friday 15 December 2017

10 things you need to know about Davos

Trump shadow hangs over elite


Dearbhail McDonald in Davos

Agendas, meetings and the importance of a coloured badge - here are the 10 things you need to know about Davos:

1. What is Davos?

The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an annual gathering of the world's business and political elite - the so-called 1pc.

Delegates (who must be invited) include world leaders, the chief executives and senior personnel of major international companies, including hedge funds, banks, tech and big pharma as well as leading scholars and policymakers.

The WEF, now in its 47th year, is held at the Swiss ski resort of Davos, a small mountain town that is placed in lockdown for the four-day conference, with activities overseen by a permanent corps of Swiss army snipers in ski boots who perch on rooftops overlooking the conference venues and hotels.

In theory, Davos is an opportunity for an exclusive group of leaders to network and dream up solutions to the world's problems.

In practice, it is the biggest business development opportunity on the planet.

2. Badges

In Davos, attendees obsess about the WEF's badge hierarchy. Heads of state, royalty and high level participants have the most coveted badges: white, credit card style badges with special insignia.

"Regular" participants also have white badges.

Orange (media), violet (tech staff), green (officials accompanying heads of state) and grey badges (for spouses and partners of white badgers) offer more limited access.

Least envied are the so called "hotel badgers," whose pass gets them into hotels close to the main event but not the inner sanctum of the congress centre.


3. The Agenda

Davos is meant to bring the 1pc and others together to heal the world's problems.

They do so through a range of panels, debates and speeches and simulations such as 'A Day in the Life of a Refugee' in which delegates trade food for valuables, fill out identity papers and endure orders from uniformed soldiers with fake weapons to experience what life is like for refugees.

The program includes everything from pandemics to climate change but has been derided for failing to spot or find solutions to problems such as the financial crisis, growing inequalities, Trump, Brexit and populism.

4. The Meetings

For all the publicity Davos attracts, real business happens behind closed doors.

Davos is the ultimate business speed-dating experience, with most meetings lasting less than 30 minutes.

Space is at a premium so it is not unusual for "spotters" to stand over you waiting for an empty space to emerge.

Here, too, there is an elaborate caste system.

There are public meetings and bilateral that you'll find out about.

The most important meetings are those that are held in absolute secrecy.

5. Davos Man

Only 20pc of the Davos chosen are women.

There are women at Davos including high-level participants such as the IMF's Christine Lagarde and British Prime Minister Theresa May. But most women are at Davos in a supporting role.

Davos is a man's world and a depressing reminder of how few of the 50pc have made it in to the 1pc.

6. Parties

The parties at Davos are legendary and salt in the wounds of those who loathe its elite status.

The hottest ticket this year was a dinner hosted by Saudi Aramco, which is about to embark on the world's largest IPO. The dinner at the $175m egg-shaped InterContinental Davos and was attended by people including Stuart Gulliver, the boss of HSBC Holdings Plc and Larry Fink, head of fund manager BlackRock Inc. I couldn't blag my way into that one.

7. Best speaker

For symbolic significance, the opening address by Chinese President Xi Jinping was the biggest speech, overshadowing a special address by British Prime Minister Theresa May.

Xi, the first Chinese leader to address Davos, positioned himself as arch defender of globalisation and free trade. A communist party man charming the capitalist elite at Davos is something that would have been inconceivable five years ago.

8. In demand

In previous years, delegates and their entourage from America dominated the agenda at Davos.

This year China was in the ascendant, but all anyone really wanted to talk about was Donald Trump.

Partly because of a backlash against globalisation and centrist policies, many high-profile political and business figures chose to stay away from Davos this year.

Notable absentees include German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande.

9. Weather

Temperatures plunge as low as -15 or -17 degrees in Davos and falls on the frozen footpaths are brutally common.

Still, delegates and their entourages were luckier than those who travelled to the ski resort between Christmas and New Year where the local hospital was fielding some 100 admissions a day.

10. Still the best show in town

Davos is blamed for the rise in populism and middle class anger around the world and sadly many private conversations this year were about how Trump could enhance further still the power and wealth of the 1pc.

For all the criticisms of Davos, there is nowhere like it. It is a gathering of the elites, but mere mortals are here too.

It brings together, in one location, the most powerful (and, yes, wealthy) people in the world.

They are the people with power to influence and make change: whether they do so is another matter.

Irish Independent

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