The global business and political elite gathers this week in the ski and health resort of Davos, with the declared aim of finding a cure to the world’s ills.
Starting on Wednesday, Davos will host what is arguably the world’s largest and best-known networking event – the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
This year’s meeting will bring together a total of 2,250 participants from 96 countries, for discussions based around the central theme of “Taking Responsibility for Tough Choices”.
Organisers say the opening session of the annual meeting will be a major innovation, the Global Town Hall, an interactive plenary session designed to bring diverse people, voices and viewpoints together around the main theme.
They say the objective is for participants to prioritise the six issues that should be at the top of the global agenda in 2005.
“The Town Hall allows the annual meeting to react to even the most recent changes on the global agenda, and to refocus as events change,” says Ged Davis, managing director of the WEF’s centre for strategic insight.
However, WEF opponents remain unconvinced, saying the official theme is little more than “window-dressing” for the real purpose of the meeting – an annual get-together for the world’s rich and powerful, with “business as usual” topping the agenda.
The focus on business is certainly borne out by a look at the list of participants, nearly half of whom come from the private sector worldwide.
The majority are members of the WEF, which depends on their annual contributions and conference-related fees to ensure its own financial survival.
“More than 500 chairmen and CEOs from the world’s leading companies, and more than 120 companies from the Fortune 500, are actively taking part,” says Peter Torreele, WEF managing director for community development and marketing.
“[With this turnout], the meeting once again will allow business to play a key role in shaping the global agenda.”
Torreele and his colleagues at the WEF say the focus is deliberate. They believe the only way to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems is by partnerships that bring together business, political and other leaders.
The guest list this year also includes more than 20 heads of state or government, 70 cabinet ministers, 26 religious leaders, 15 union leaders and more than 50 heads of non-governmental organisations.
The welcome ceremony will be co-hosted by WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab and Swiss President Samuel Schmid.
The annual meeting will then be officially opened by the British prime minister, Tony Blair, in his capacity as chairman of the G8.
Politics and culture
Other political participants will include the head of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, the German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, and the new president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas.
The world of entertainment will also be present in force, with representatives ranging from rock legends Bono and Peter Gabriel to Hollywood stars Richard Gere, Angelina Jolie and Sharon Stone.
Issues scheduled for discussion range from strategies to eradicate poverty, climate change and the state of the world economy to corporate governance, nuclear proliferation and the position of Islam in the world.
On Saturday, the Swiss economics minister Joseph Deiss will host a meeting of representatives from around 30 countries, aimed at relaunching world trade talks ahead of the planned Hong Kong conference in December.
In parallel to the main workshops, which are closed to the public, the WEF is also co-hosting a series of so-called Open Forum meetings.
The seven debates will focus on themes ranging from human rights and business ethics to the apparent decline of Switzerland as a “role model state”.
swissinfo, Chris Lewis
The Geneva-based WEF held its first annual meeting in 1971, chaired by business professor Klaus Schwab.
The forum, a not-for-profit foundation, had revenue of some SFr74 million last year, funded by membership, participation and “partnership” fees.
WEF members comprise more than 1,000 companies worldwide, many of them leading in their field.
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