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The European skiers have once again checked into the hotels of this small Swiss village, replacing the attendees of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. (ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS)
The European skiers have once again checked into the hotels of this small Swiss village, replacing the attendees of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum. (ARND WIEGMANN/REUTERS)

World Economic Forum

Examining the true meaning of Davos Add to ...

The European skiers have once again checked into the hotels of this small Swiss village, replacing the attendees of the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum.

One occurrence this week caused me to stand back and reflect more broadly on the meaning of this event and the challenge of improving the state of the world.

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It came from unexpected source. I received a call from the producers of The Current, the national CBC radio public affairs program, asking me to go on air to debate Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian newspaper. He had written an article saying Davos was an elitist gabfest. You can listen to the CBC discussion here.

Mr. Chakrabortty argued that Davos is a privileged club of white male billionaires and millionaires who pretend to discuss issues of concern to society; that the real action is away from the public sessions and occurs in many secretive meetings in which capitalists conspire to grow their wealth. The forum “is the most perfect case study of how the practitioners of free-market, globalized capitalism give the public one explanation for what they are doing and why, while privately pursuing the complete opposite,” he wrote.

I told the host, Anna Maria Tremonti, that it was odd for me to listen to this broadside, as earlier that day I had several incidents that weren’t exactly part of his storyline. I ran into Geoff Cape, co-founder of Evergreen, a Toronto-based national charity working to make cities more livable. He was beaming to tell me that Accenture and Cisco had just agreed to become strategic partners.

Then I ran into Canada’s Marc Kielburger, co-founder of Free the Children, who had made enormous progress getting support for his initiative Me to We.

After that I spoke with Juliana Rotich, co-founder of the amazing organization Ushahadi, which is based in Kenya but is enabling social change and human rights projects around around the world. She said she had just met with a Latin American government minister who showed her how they were using Ushahidi to map poverty down to the individual-residence level, in an effort to turn the tide.

The CBC discussion was cut short, so I want to complete my thoughts here. But first let me summarize my radio argument about why Chakrabortty was factually wrong writing from his perch in London – much like someone describing what is happening on the surface of Mars when they’re not there.

The culture of Davos

To begin, it’s not just white men in Davos. The Forum pays a lot of attention to diversity and the crowd at Davos reflects that. I don’t have the data, but in almost every meeting there are many women and people from every part of the world. There will be a Forum meeting on Latin America this April in Peru, and a meeting focused on Africa in Cape Town this May. They will be followed by Forum meetings in Jordan, Myanmar, China and India. All in all, the Forum organizes meetings in cities and countries around the world.

Mr. Chakrabortty is not right about the Forum delegates all being corporate fat cats either. Almost half of the attendees come from NGOs and other civil society organizations, universities, governments and the arts.

Even if it were a meeting of business leaders, what’s the point of assuming it would be a bad thing? That argument presupposes that all corporations and their leaders are evil. Are there business executives in the financial services industry here who one might disagree with? You bet. That’s neither here nor there.

There are executives present who make trucks, trains, food, fabrics, office towers, clothes, software, networks and satellites. All of the biggest wealth creators and entrepreneurs of the world are here. There are the people who are trying to create jobs. There are people from hundreds of the hottest startups on the planet – many of them social innovators. Fully 80 per cent of new jobs come from companies less than 5 years old. Does Mr. Chakrabortty not believe that a market economy is a good idea?

Mr. Chakrabortty goes on a diatribe about Sharon Stone being at Davos, which, for starters, wasn’t proven. But what’s the point anyway? The Forum recognizes good work done by people around the world, and sometimes that will include those in the film industry.

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