Nestled in the mountains, about 75 miles (118 kilometers) southwest of Zurich, Davos is a pristine ski resort. Crisp air and bright sun grace each day; temperatures drop at night. There’s one main street lined with little shops; buses run up and down. Each year, at the end of January, the world’s elite in business, government, academia, charity organizations and entertainment invade the village for the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting.
Participants are advised to walk; each registration package includes a pair of ice grippers to go under boots.
Despite the suggestions to keep Davos green, there’s a huge presence of private limos and vans, creating traffic congestion that mars the serenity. It really is faster to walk.
I attended as an observer and was given a “white badge” that gave me access to most of the sessions. My journalist husband, in his 15th year at Davos, spent time interviewing and meeting with his reporters.
First conceived in 1971 by a group of European business leaders, the event attracts more than 2,500 people from every country. Every language and accent is heard; yet all sessions are conducted in English and all monetary references are in dollars.
One can only imagine what the place looks like before WEF arrives and after it leaves. The entire town becomes retrofitted to accommodate the crowds, the required security, and coat checking systems. It’s said that Davos (as the meeting is referred to) provides the only employment for the Swiss Army, called upon each year to handle the meeting’s needs.
The mountain location is intended to provide a more relaxed atmosphere- dress code is “smart” and “business casual” (no ties but most men seemed to wear them). Sessions adhere to the “Chatham House Rule”.
First devised in 1927 and amended twice since then, the rule prohibits using the names of speakers, hoping that the presenters will feel free to debate openly.
Given that, I’ll give a recap of my experiences:
- Solar and other energy alternatives are expected to increase, so is natural gas or fracking.
- Electricity is a basic human right. We can’t expect poverty to end without providing energy to areas without it.
- Recycling needs to become more commonplace worldwide, possibly providing incentives like frequent flyer points that can be redeemed for consumer goods and food
- Genome sequencing can help prevent disease and improve world health.
- Cyber- security presents a real danger yet the growth of connectivity provides great opportunities to help cities coordinate services.
- Cancer deaths can be reduced through education that changes behavior. Direct funds that go toward drugs to cure cancer into education to prevent it.
Education & Employment
- Education will change, becoming more accessible to people thanks to on line, long distance opportunities. Learning will become more interactive; online learning provides for immediate feedback. While this works well in mathematics and science—even labs can be done with 3-dimensional technology; challenges remain in how to teach humanities.
- Robots are replacing workers. The basic skills taught to prepare people for the workplace in the 19th and 20th centuries need to be altered to address needs of the 21st century.
- Women, already attending higher education more than men, need opportunities to become business leaders. Bosses- men and women, need to address gender stereotypes; a woman taking maternity leave shouldn’t be deterred from returning to her career at the same level from before her pregnancy.
- Empowering women in poor countries can end poverty. Educating women and children and giving women freedom to vote will address terrorism.
It’s truly an intellectual feast. I found myself reaching for my college economics classes to understand some of the presentations. I enjoyed the exchange and breadth of ideas and the many chance encounters this setting provides. Whether standing in line, walking from venue to the next, or sitting at dinner, I struck up conversations with fascinating people all engaged in their passions. I met a jewelry designer from Japan, a president of an American college, heads of non-profit organizations and corporate leaders from all over. I participated in a poverty simulation, “Struggle for Survival” presented by the Crossroad Foundation. Placed in “family” groups of three, we experienced what life is like for those 1 billion worldwide living on under $1 a day.
In a place like Davos, that attracts billionaires, being reminded about the world’s least fortunate seemed appropriate.
We’re off to Basel today to see friends.