A Themeless Davos

Want to stump Davos participants? Ask them what the big theme is this year.

Photo by: World Economic Forum

Most of those I've talked to couldn't come up with a single thing that defined this year's WEF, unlike the previous five years.

But Mark Spelman, global head of strategy for Accenture, was willing to give it a try for our blog.

"The overriding impression from day one in Davos was (that) optimism trumps pessimism and the mood by the evening was upbeat," Spelman said.

"By day two the conversations became more edgy," he said. "What was the key theme for Davos 2011, what was the big idea? Huddled conversations and one-on-one discussions about the dominant theme could be heard throughout the Congress Center."

"We understand the opportunities and challenges of 2011 but the debate has shifted to some of the long-term structural challenges," Spelman said.

Heard in Davos 2011 - Dispatches From The Conference
Heard in Davos 2011 - Dispatches From The Conference

Two big discussions were on the table Thursday: structural imbalance and global governance, he said.

"The structural imbalance question was distilled into 'consume less and pay off debt' in the West (while) domestic consumption has to grow in the emerging markets," Spelman said.

"The unanswered question was how long would it take and were the actions sufficient to bring the surplus and deficit outcomes more into balance," he said.

"The global governance question focuses on the future of the G20. There is recognition that the G20 has worked well on the financial crisis, but can it become the oversight forum for addressing the big global issues working with the WTO, IMF and Financial Stability Board," he said. "The responsibility for the next generation of G20 leadership moves from the Koreans to the French."

"The challenge for the Frenchwill be to provide inclusive leadership, to recognize the range of different priorities of both the developed and emerging economies on issues such as institutional governance, financial markets and development and to balance delivery short and long term," Speman said.