Visitors and workers walk inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos | Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
A file image of visitors and workers walking inside the Congress Center ahead of the World Economic Forum in Davos 2019 | Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
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New Delhi: The World Economic Forum (WEF) is scheduled to hold its annual meeting at Davos, Switzerland, between 21-24 January where political leaders, celebrities, economists and journalists from all over the world will gather to discuss the most pressing global issues. 

This year marks the forum’s golden jubilee and some big names are expected to attend the event, including teenage climate change activist Greta Thunberg and US President Donald Trump, who had skipped it last year. 

Every year, the WEF attracts world leaders, economic experts, business tycoons, journalists and celebrities from the entertainment world as it gives them an opportunity to interact and network with a wide range of decision-makers.

However, it has recently drawn criticism for defeating its own purpose by being “too elite” and “out of touch” with the masses.

ThePrint looks at the origins and purpose of the WEF and its significance in the world today. 

What is WEF?

The WEF is known more colloquially as ‘Davos’ after the sprawling ski resort town of Switzerland where the forum is held every year.  

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The WEF began in 1971 as the European Management Forum, a conference started by economist and engineer Klaus Schwab “to make European businesses think more about stakeholders beyond those who own their shares and to expose them to American management methods”, according to The Economist 

The idea draws from the ‘stakeholder theory’, which broadly states that organisations must view not only their shareholders but also the rest of society as having a stake in the company’s actions. 

In 1987, the conference was re-named the World Economic Forum with the mission to “engage the foremost political, business, cultural and other leaders of society to shape global, regional and industry agendas”.

The WEF is attended and funded by its members, which include the top 1,000 global companies as well as prominent individuals from various walks of life. 

Also read: These will be the biggest risks to the world in 2020, says WEF report

The controversies

About 3,000 people from 117 countries are expected to attend this year. Apart from Trump and Thunberg, other prominent names include German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UN Secretary General António Guterres and IMF’s managing director Kristalina Georgieva.

Key business leaders include Jamie Dimon, the chairman and chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock’s Larry Fink, Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive officer of Uber.  

Attendees network, show up for sessions and speak at meetings where there are possibilities of striking business deals and investments.

In the recent past, Davos has been criticised for being elitist and hypocritical about its agenda. At last year’s conference, Dutch author Rutger Bergman pointed out that 1,500 private jets were flown in to hear a session by environmentalist David Attenborough.

No one raises the real issue of tax avoidance, right? And of the rich just not paying their fair share. I mean, it feels like I’m at a firefighters conference, and no one is allowed to speak about water,” he added.

Political analyst and Time’s editor at large Anand Giridharadas has called Davos “a family reunion for the people who broke the world”.

Schwab, the event’s founder, however, defended the conference, saying: “Elites have always existed. We bring together people of influence, and we hope that they use their influence in a positive way.”

India at Davos

Over the years, India has downgraded its presence at Davos.

This year, only two central government ministersCommerce and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal, who will lead the Indian delegation, and Minister of State for Shipping and Chemicals and Fertilisers Mansukh Mandaviya — are slated to attend the event.

Actress Deepika Padukone and Sadhguru are also expected to attend, as are 100 CEOs from India, including Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani and Uday Kotak.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended Davos in 2018, the first instance of an Indian PM attending the gathering after 1997. That year, PM Deve Gowda had gone to Davos.

What to expect from Davos 2020

The theme for this year’s forum is ‘Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World’ with a focus on “renewing the concept of stakeholder capitalism to overcome income inequality, societal division and the climate crisis”.

A number of sessions are held every day of the conference, and will range from topics like ‘Tech for Good’, ‘Fairer Economics’ and ‘How to Save Our Planet’, among others.

Issues around climate change are expected to dominate the WEF this year. Thunberg, who also attended last year, warned attendees ahead of the 2020 meet, saying: “You have not seen anything yet.”

According to the Financial Times, some of the most notable things to look out for in this year’s WEF is Trump’s stance on geopolitics, climate change and trade with China. 

Also read: Tech revolution could worsen global inequality, WEF says


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