Here’s why Davos should listen to populism

The year has barely kicked off and we are already getting ready for the biggest business meeting of the year in the Swiss Alps. And, this year, the World Economic Forum's annual meeting is headlining under the theme of "Responsive Leadership."

This theme leaves plenty of room for interpretation and imagination.

A man walks in Davos's street during the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Fabrice Coffrini | AFP | Getty Images
A man walks in Davos's street during the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

My sense of what best describes leadership in the current political climate of populism is getting a grasp of peoples' worries and wishes and acting upon them to improve their lives. What I worry about is that those who are not part of conversations in the warm chalets and conference rooms of Davos get no chance to shape the ideas of those who are inside. In other words - they drift further apart.

While I do believe that business leaders, politicians and policy makers greatly benefit from the exchange of ideas and knowledge with like-minded peers in Davos, I would argue that this year, more than any other, the attendees should include your ordinary man and woman on the street. Fly in Mr and Mrs Smith, Herr und Frau Meier and Monsieur and Madame LeBleu and give them the best seat at the table. I am sure they would appreciate some champagne and canapés too.

Brexit and Trump have profoundly shocked the establishment who blindly trusted their groupthink and misleading polls that were equally unable to predict the prevailing populist sentiment.

While I question the merit and ideology of populist policies such as limiting immigration and protectionism, I do see the need for people to be heard. The elite, more than ever before, seems out of touch with their electorate, their employees and consumers earning minimum wage.

I do wonder whether the Davos elite would have been less surprised by 2016's political earthquakes if they had spent as much time talking to your ordinary citizen as with his or her business contact.

In the end it is those ordinary citizens who will be voting and who will be buying products.

The notable absence of German Chancellor Angela Merkel has led to much speculation that she is actually rejecting this idea of merely rubbing shoulders with the world's top 5 percent.

While she is officially not attending due to a "conflict in schedule," she might simply not want to be seen in Davos in an election year when the backlash against her immigration policy is dividing her government.

I wonder what the group of citizens would bring to the table if they were indeed invited to Davos - I have a feeling it is not the power of artificial intelligence or climate change. I assume it is something closer to immigration, job security or simply how to make ends meet?

Show leadership and be inclusive - that is my best advice for the Davos elite.

Mr And Mrs Smith will gratefully accept the invitation. They might also appreciate a second glass of the bubbly.

Carolin Roth is based in London and is anchor for Street Signs as well as covering the Swiss market for CNBC. You can follow Carolin on Twitter @CarolinCNBC.

Follow CNBC International on Twitter and Facebook.