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‘I’m not invited to Davos. It doesn’t bother me so much’

The WEF annual meeting is struggling to retain its role as 'king of the forums'

The Davos Congress Center, home to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting – is it losing relevance? Reuters
The Davos Congress Center, home to the World Economic Forum's annual meeting – is it losing relevance?

Habitually at this time of year, I’m struggling to squeeze the snow boots and Arctic parka into a small travel case to board the Zurich flight for the annual pilgrimage to the Alpine town of Davos for the meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Every year for the past 12 – barring the Covid-19 year of 2021 when the event took place in the summer – has been the same routine.

It has become part of the rhythm of my working year, an opportunity to shake off the festive cobwebs in a hurly-burly of plenary sessions, interviews, networking and good old-fashioned fun.

I’ve often compared Davos week to being back at university: intellectual stimulation all day, fun all night – if you have the stamina.

Not so this year, because I have not been invited.

Changes to the World Economic Forum communications regime have resulted in a shift of policy and a rethink of the lengthy media guest list.

It’s difficult to get hard rationale or figures from the WEF, but the upshot is that there will be fewer journalists at Davos this year.

I find myself a sad victim of that new approach. I don’t expect much sympathy.

Am I bothered? Well, yes, I will miss the annual chance to prove that I am “committed to improving the state of the world,” as the WEF motto goes, and am already jealous of my media colleagues who survived the cull.

But – and this is not just chagrin at having been left off the list – I don’t think I’ll miss it too much. I was not really looking forward to Davos 2024 as much anyway.

This is partly due to the aforementioned changes to the WEF media regime. Old friends will not be there to provide the temporary camaraderie of the Davos media pack.

But also it seems to me that “going to Davos” has lost some of the cachet it had before the pandemic.

Since Covid days it has become a target for delusional right-wing conspiracists who see “the Great Reset” – the WEF response to the great changes brought about by the pandemic – as a liberal/socialist plot to control the world.

If the WEF is retreating into its shell, there are plenty of alternatives these days for the committed forum-goer

Ludicrous, of course, and barely even worth rebutting. But a wider malaise appears to have infected WEF over the past 12 months.

Last January, there was talk of a “mutiny” among WEF staffers over the increasingly autocratic role played by Klaus Schwab, the founder of the 54-year-old institution, and the lack of a succession plan if the 85-year-old ever decides to call it a day. Expect more of those rumblings next week.

Expect grumbles, too, from the strategic corporate partners who pay millions of dollars to attend the event. Some of them believe Davos – the home of globalisation in an increasingly multipolar world – is not serving their interests the way it used to.

I know of at least one eminent policymaker from the Arabian Gulf who will not be attending this year because “it’s not that relevant for me any more”.

There will still be a big presence from the Middle East, not least because of the Gaza war and the humanitarian crisis it has caused.

Palestine will not be the “elephant in the room”, but rather a herd of stampeding rogues trampling round the Kongresszentrum.

The other eye-catching item on the Davos agenda will be the Financial Services Governors meeting, where the “masters of the universe” are expected to deliver a definitive verdict on where interest rates are going for the rest of the year, with all that means for the global economy.

That event, however, is being held under “Chatham House” rules and therefore closed to reporting press. We await with bated breath what news seeps out of the Ameron Hotel next Wednesday.

Is this another sign of media shyness on the part of the WEF? If so, it is not a good development. In light of the rumblings and grumblings above, surely the right response is for more transparency and openness to counter the QAnon nutcases.

If the WEF is retreating into its shell, there are plenty of alternatives these days for the committed forum-goer: Bloomberg’s New Economic Forum, the Milken Institute’s global circuit, and not least the “Davos in the desert” organised by Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative, which has rolled out a series of international events augmenting its roots in the kingdom.

In business terms, Davos is facing lots of competition. Just last week the Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit in India was dubbed the “Davos of the East.”

If Davos wants to retain its laurel as the “king of the forums” it has to make itself more relevant to the rest of the world, and not simply the Euro-American hardcore. It will not do that by ignoring new voices – like AGBI – in one of the most dynamic and interesting parts of the world, the Middle East.

Will any of that worry the movers and shakers as they board their private jets this time next week bursting with new ideas and Swiss fondu? Probably not. But it should worry the WEF.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He also acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia

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