Davos ditches the platitudes, reaches for the real world

What is the point of Davos? That's the question most people have asked at least once, more likely many times over, when assessing the annual World Economic Forum's (WEF) annual jamboree in the Alps.

Let's face it, this week we are currently facing turmoil in the foreign exchange markets, IMF warnings over a global growth slowdown, ongoing conflict in Ukraine, dire warnings of inequality being worse than ever and much more besides. So is WEF just a distraction for those who are supposed to be getting us back on track?

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Having been to the annual event many times since 2006, I too have questioned the purpose of the gathering and at times have firmly believed that the meeting's core thematics have been stunningly distant from real world events.

The truth is that if you ask the participants, from prime ministers to chief executives, from activist pop stars to labor unions, they will tell you that it is a unique opportunity to bang together some of the most influential heads on this planet.

They may tell you to forget the bland headline thematics put together by WEF and concentrate on the often ferocious debates, both in public and private, where ideas are formed and differences very often overcome.

And yet this year for once I am a little bit more hopeful that the headline nonsense of some of the previous years has been abandoned and the forum will hit the ground running and not have to bridge such a wide gap between the program and the real world.

A logo sits on a sign at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A logo sits on a sign at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014.

Ahead of last year's Davos I reminded readers of just how blind WEF theme authors have been to real world events. For instance, you will of course remember 2009's meeting title was 'Shaping The Post-Crisis World'! Still waiting for the post crisis world as far as I can see..

So this year I started with my usual cynicism when I saw the theme was "The New Global Context." The new what?

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And yet, when I scanned the executive summary, I suddenly realised that WEF may have had an epiphany.

Right from the first bullet point, WEF was recognising all kinds of ills in the world. World leaders are being presented with a list of issues including: erosion of trust in public institutions, ominous and disruptive technological advances, including cyberspace, geopolitical fault lines, decreasing multilateral cooperation, shifts to nationalism, populism, statism and sectarianism.

In addition, WEF notes issues relating to divergent rate paths, climate change, youth unemployment and income inequality.

The point is these issues are clear and present dangers that those of us tasked with investigating the world economy's problems look at on a daily basis. But it's the recognition this year that WEF need not dress the meeting up in platitudes before getting to the nitty-gritty that may just mean the meeting can hit the ground running -- and in the process persuade outsider that it is not cosy, detached and the preserve of the elite. Here's hoping anyway.

- Steve Sedgwick is the anchor of CNBC's Squawk Box Europe