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Dear Davos: A very expensive party as the world burns

Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's Desk)
Filed on January 22, 2020 | Last updated on January 22, 2020 at 06.26 am
US President Donald Trump gestures as he addresses the media at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.- AP

People like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag.

Did you know that the World Economic Forum (WEF) was born as the European Management Symposium and was meant to be a celebratory get-together to mark the 25th anniversary of Geneva's Centre d'Etudes Industrielles (CEI)? While the annual symposium was rechristened the WEF in 1987, the CEI is, of course, now known as the IMD (International Institute for Management Development). The A-list bash was, in its inaugural year, attended by 450 people, and generated a profit of CHF25,000 (a little over Swiss Franc 55 per head) - about Dh275,000 in today's money. That was in 1971, (almost) half a century ago.

As it was then, the WEF at Davos remains a party for some of the world's richest and most influential individuals. In 2018 (last available year), the total income from the annual event of the not-for-profit foundation amounted to CHF326.7 million (Dh1.24 billion). As per a 2017 report by Oliver Cann, the head of strategic communications at WEF, membership and partnership fees range from CHF60,000 to CHF600,000 depending on the level of engagement. There's a reason why the WEF is known as the world's most exclusive business bash.

The bash has not, by any stretch of the imagination, been in vain. It lists among its biggest achievements, building economic bridges, averting a war (between Greece and Turkey), and launching the Vaccine Alliance, potentially saving millions of children from disease and death. All true. But one cannot ignore the fact that one, most of these achievements came decades ago and, two, there has always been a bigger focus at Davos on optics than substance.

Nevertheless, it remains a platform from where environmentalists like Greta Thunberg and economists like Nouriel Roubini can warn the world of the impending gloom. We didn't heed the words of Roubini in 2007, when, at a WEF panel he said: "We don't know if derivatives are diffusing risk or concentrating it. The risk of something systemic happening is rising." Thunberg, who's also being keenly watched this year, said last year: "Our house is on fire. At places like Davos, people like to tell success stories. But their financial success has come with an unthinkable price tag. And on climate change, we have to acknowledge we have failed." Are we paying heed or will we continue to party as the world burns?

 


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