World Economic Forum meets in Davos

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The World Economic Forum convened again for its annual four-day conference at a Swiss ski resort, much as it has done in past years in Davos, Switzerland bringing with it over 30 years of a legacy of economic prosperity.

The Davos conference, which was officially founded in 1971 by German economist Klaus Schwab in an attempt to get European business men to interact and learn from American business practices, grew slowly until 1974, when political leaders began to get invited due to the rising conflict in the Middle East amidst rising oil prices and economic disparity.

The World Economic Forum(WEF) today is a conference that helps bring politicians, businessmen and women, diplomats and other high-profile celebrities together to discuss key issues surrounding the economy economic growth and appropriate measures that can be taken to help failing economies.

As for those who attended the 2015 conference, over 2,500 people ranging from owners of corporations, to local and government politicians were present at the 45th anniversary meeting, with delegates from over 100 countries present, with a majority of attending members coming from Europe and the United States. The average age for those attending is 53 and 48 for men and women respectively.

Included in the attendees were 40 various world leaders who made appearances at Davos, with some of the most anticipated guests being Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, a former army chief who ousted Mohamed Morsi from Egypt a little over a year ago, Chinese premier Li Keqiang, French president François Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel, Tony Blair and Prince Andrew. From the business world, Google’s Eric Schmidt, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, General Motors’ Mary Barra, Unilever’s Paul Polman and Santander’s Ana Botín as well as Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors all made appearances.

According to those who attended this years Davos, was focused on seeing the world in a new way or according to the conference, through a “New Global Context”, which itself is defined as addressing the conflicts, instability and political, economic and technological challenges that make the world unstable.

Touching on the instability of the economy, various conversations were given to the political turmoil in Ukraine and its de-stabilizing factor on Eastern Europe’s economy, as well as the increased actions from the Islamic State. Though Petro Poroshenko, the president of Ukraine was present he quickly left Davos as the fighting in Ukraine continues after renewed Russian aggression.

Shifting to political instability and its effect on local economies, Davos also changed its attention to the global economy, reporting that America is actually doing quite strongly in comparison with past years as China and Europe slow down, stating that the Russian recession has long-stretching effects on both. Overall, Davos reported good economic growth for the global economy at 3.3 per cent, a number slightly lower than predictions from Washington’s earlier forecast of 3.8 per cent.

Another hot-topic at Davos was climate change, which has been the official taboo topic at the conference, often overlooked entirely in favour of less controversial issues. However, ending the stigma on climate change, Al Gore and singer Pharrell Williams appeared on stage at Davos, announcing a second round of Live Earth concerts in a effort to promote global awareness of global warming. According to Gore, the concerts will be in all seven continents including the ever-frigid Antarctica.

At the conference, Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International as well as one of the six co-chairs at this year’s WEF, commented that the increased concentration of wealth was dangerous and bad for the future growth for virtually all capitalist countries. This came a week after Oxfam reported that by next year, one per cent of the world population will own more wealth that the other 99 per cent.

Despite Davos having a genuine concern for the economic wellbeing of the world according to the World Economic Forum, critics have often called Davos unnecessary, stating that Davos is simply a gathering of the 1 per cent.

Brendan Cox, director of policy and advocacy at Save the Children, stated that, “My main impression is of rich people using Davos to devise plans to get even richer. But there are two positives: the gathering of so many rich in one place provides an opportunity to highlight and interrogate their role in inequality, poverty, climate change, and so on. Given how unaccountable so many of them are, that is a good thing.

“Secondly, though getting richer is the main business, there are also people who use [Davos] for serious discussions about how they can play a role in building a fairer, more sustainable world.”

Despite this, various people have praised Davos for its recognition of inequality and its continuing strive to improve the global economy.

John Cridland, Director General of the CBI, when asked about the need for Davos, that, “Yes, I sometimes think there is a perception that the people in the world business community come to Davos and talk about world business in a self-indulgent way. But most of the conversations between chief executives here are about Piketty-type issues. They talk about things they wouldn’t be talking about back in the boardroom.”

Regardless of the legitimacy of Davos, it is clear that by the shift towards focusing on global inequalities, coupled with the growing presence of women on Davos, shows that Davos is continuing to put a foot in the right direction. It is important to note that some 17 per cent of those attending were women, a record high for the male-centric conference.

While the relevance of the conference may not be entirely dependent on the actual discussions being had, at least Davos has the ability to force the most powerful men and women in the world to sit down and listen to what problems need to be addressed immediately.

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