Looking for Meaning in the Davos Theme
The WEF publicity blurb goes like this. There are 2,500 participants from 88 countries, including 1,370 CEOs, 27 world leaders, 250 media leaders, not to mention a few celebrities, like the actress Emma Thompson.
They all have one not-so-simple task: To make the world a better place. Every year the WEF team tries to come up with a catchy theme that will encapsulate the annual meeting. This year's offering is a valiant attempt: "The Power of Collaborative Innovation", but it's a little short on detail.
I’ve canvassed a few ideas as we head towards Davos as to what exactly this means. Gideon Rachman from The Financial Times, a seasoned Davos watcher, remarks that perhaps 2007 saw too much collaborative innovation resulting in the credit crisis.
Ben Verwaayen, the CEO of BT, says the phrase means whatever you want it to mean! He is a big fan of Davos. He says its value is in bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and enabling delegates to gain a broad perspective in a short period.
WEF says its Davos meeting sets the global agenda for the year ahead. It certainly seems to get people talking. Last year all the grand gestures concerned climate change and that has remained a key focus for the political economy over the past 12 months.
The official theme last year was "A Shifting Power Equation." I can’t help wondering whether WEF wishes it could re-use last year's mantra. We still seem to be in the middle of that trend and the growing contingent of delegates from Asia is testimony to that. I counted at least 45 mentions of China in the official Davos program; that compares to 33 mentions of the UK and 47 mentions of Germany. (For the record, I got as far as counting 150 mentions of the US until I realized I had better things to do, but you get the picture).
One debate in particular has grabbed my attention. It's called "If America sneezes, does the world still catch a cold?" This looks to me like being one of the key discussion points at this year's event, so I’ll be braving the cold, the snow, the media circus and the endless pizza to pick up clues. I just hope I’ve packed enough thermals."