The World Economic Forum is trying to solve an image problem.
About 2,500 world leaders from business, politics and civil society are expected to attend a rare spring edition of Davos this week.
The annual meeting will invite movers and hunters in Davos to the luxurious Alpine Ski Resort in Switzerland for five days of talks on issues including Kovid-19, Russia’s war in Ukraine and the climate crisis.
Event organizers postponed the meeting from its traditional January slot due to safety concerns amid the coronavirus epidemic. However, to welcome local residents, the forum’s first private event is now back after a two-year hiatus.
The theme of this year’s event is “History at a Turning Point: Government Policy and Business Strategy.”
“This means a lot to us. It means a lot to the whole of Switzerland,” local tourism board spokesman Samuel Rosenast told CNBC’s Tom Chitty in an interview.
Rosenest said the event was “incredibly important” for those living in Europe’s top cities, estimating that the resort could lose about 70 million Swiss francs ($ 72 million) this week alone.
“Every business interacts with the World Economic Forum. People know how important it is,” Rosenast said. “Most people here are looking forward to the World Economic Forum. They are happy to be here again this year.”
‘Symbol of a Failed Era’
Needless to say, everyone is happy to see the return of world business and political elites to the Swiss Alps. The event has been sharply criticized in recent years for being out of touch, ineffective and irrelevant.
Three years ago, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman went viral on a Davos panel when he called on billionaires to avoid taxes. In a clip that has now been viewed nearly 11 million times, Bregman says the failure to effectively address tax evasion is the primary cause of inequality worldwide.
“It looks like I’m at a fire conference and nobody’s allowed to talk about water,” Bragman said at the time. “It’s not rocket science … we have to talk about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes.”
The Swiss Ski Resort in Davos hosts the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
Harold Cunningham | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Most recently, protesters, activists, and front-line activists have tried to challenge the WEF’s “empty rhetoric” by accusing Davos of being a “symbol of a failed era” that should be left behind.
A report released by the global charity Oxfam on Monday found that 573 new billionaires were born during the coronavirus epidemic – at the rate of one per 30 hours. The summary, titled “Benefit from Pain,” expects an additional 263 million people to fall into extreme poverty this year at a rate of 1 million people every 33 hours.
Gabriella Butcher, executive director of Oxfam International, said: “Billionaires are coming to Davos to celebrate the incredible rise of their fortunes.
“Meanwhile, the decades-long progress of extreme poverty is now reversed and millions of people are experiencing an impossible increase in the cost of living alone.”
In his youth, Philip Wilhelm was one of those who protested the annual gathering of millionaires and political leaders in his hometown. Now, however, Wilhelm is the mayor of Davos, and his goal is to deliver a successful meeting.
“I protested during the annual meeting because, for me, it’s important to make it clear that we really need to address this climate crisis. And we need to make the world a more equitable place,” Wilhelm said.
Wilhelm said he took part in the protest because he felt it was important to make sure everyone who came to Davos received “the message that resolving these issues is really important.”
“Davos Man” itself has become synonymous with a stereotyped image of a common participant in the forum – rich and powerful, perhaps out of touch, but mostly elite representatives from around the world.
Fabris Kafrini | AFP | Getty Images
Wilhelm says he – and the WEF – have changed their stance since his protest days, believing he can influence policy more effectively in his current role.
When asked if criticism of the WEF has been so closely linked with Davos that the city itself has become largely interchangeable with the forum, Wilhelm replied: “No, it doesn’t bother me at all.”
“I think it’s interesting that people know Davos as a place where people meet and discuss – and I mean it should be controversial. We need to discuss what is the right way to improve the world,” Wilhelm said.
Davos 2022 is ‘one marker at a time’
Sadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum, said:
“What we’ve been doing for the last two-and-a-half years – although not visible through a specific meeting – is a set of tasks that are trying to shake up inequality and bring about change at the same time. “
Asked if growing income inequality has become a particular problem for the forum, Zahidi replied: “Inequality is a problem for the world. I think we know that societies that do not fight inequality will slow growth.”
“And so there has to be an effort to tackle inequality. Now, what does it do? Better education, better skills, better jobs, solving problems like taxation and changing the nature of our economy so that they don’t actually work for people.” Only a few, “Zahidi said. “It’s going to be the front and center of next week’s agenda.”