THE elites from the worlds of business, politics, and finance have descended on the small Swiss town of Davos for four days of lectures, discussions, and a decent serving of debauchery.
The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) has understandably got a bad wrap over the years for its reputation as a glitzy back-slapping, networking session for the world’s super-rich.
More often than not, it appears to outsiders to be nothing more than an opportunity for leaders of industry and political figureheads to come together, have a good session of sycophantic self-congratulation, and bemoan the very problems they themselves created.
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This year, for example, the evils of inequality will be tackled by a crowd containing more than its fair share of austerity-preaching politicians, presidents of investment banks, and a mass of multi-millionaires.
Similarly, oil and gas CEOs will be among those attending discussions on climate change and environmental degradation. In related news, it’s worth bearing in mind there was a record number of private jet flights for this year’s conference – 1,500 in total for all of 3,000 attendees.
It’s not hard to see where the accusations of hypocrisy stem from.
It’s not helped by the fact the conference tends to end with very little tangible evidence of anything having been achieved.
As the WEF points out, it is more “a facilitator rather than a do-er.” Meant as a platform for interaction rather than a call to action.
But there are some notable exceptions; most prominently, the “Davos Declaration.”
Perhaps the WEF’s most memorable conflict resolution, the “Davos Declaration” was the result of successful facilitation in 1988 of a no-war agreement between Greece and Turkey. The pair were then on the brink of war because of underwater research being conducted by Turkish entities in areas near the Greek islands.
Since then it has helped pave the way for several diplomatic breakthroughs, including a recently liberated Nelson Mandela shaking hands with then-South African President FW de Klerk in 1992. The pair then worked together in bringing an end to apartheid in the country.
They also facilitated the drafting of the Gaza-Jericho Agreement in 1994, a peace treaty reached by Palestinian Liberation Organisation chairman Yasir Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
The ground-breaking GAVI, the global alliance to vaccinate children in the poorest parts of the world, was publicly launched at Davos in 2000.
While these are all notable achievements, it’s not a huge amount to show for over 40 years of high-level meetings.
That’s because the real action happens behind the scenes, away from the formal events and seminars.
WEF describes it as “a way of getting all the people who can make a difference, who might not otherwise meet, in the same room.” Cue four days of furious networking and backscratching as people try to meet as many influential people as possible, constantly striving for a bigger dog than the one they’re currently talking with.
Some executives prefer to set up shop in their expansive hotel suites and have the little people come to them in comfort.
The end result is a year’s worth of high-level, potentially industry-shaping discussions happening over the space of just a few days.
And the fun doesn’t stop there. When the sun goes down, it’s party time.
The event has gained a reputation for lavish parties. Companies – and a fair few Russian oligarchs – try to make their mark by throwing a party to remember.
Google famously served shark canapes and Cristal champagne at their 2015 gathering, while Hollywood superstar Idris Elba took to the DJ decks.
Last year, Facebook hired a plot of land belonging to the Kirchner Museum to build a specially designed three-storey house to host events put on by founder Mark Zuckerberg.
In 2013, the Napster founder and Facebook shareholder Sean Parker threw a notorious “taxidermy party,” with big ticket DJs, non-stop cocktails, and stuffed animals with lasers for eyes.
A former assistant to US economist Nouriel Roubini has described Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s parties as “endless streams of the finest champagne, vodka and Russian caviar amid dancing Cossacks and beautiful Russian models.”
What deals are done at these events, us mere mortals will likely never know.