This year, during April 6-8, we knew that Asia’s answer to Davos had arrived. Launched in Hainan, China, in 2001, the ‘Boao Forum for Asia’ (BFA) founded by 26 countries, represents an initiative distinct from any other in the world.

It is true that the BFA is inspired by the World Economic Forum (and is referred to as the poor cousin of Davos), yet its genesis is deeply embedded in the turbulence that Asian economies went through in mid-1997. In fact, the BFA started as a discussion close on the heels of the Asian financial crisis.

The sudden onset of the crisis led to considerable introspection. Eminent leaders, including former Philippines President Fidel Ramos, former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, former Japanese Prime Minister M. Hoshokawa and former Indian Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, among others, initiated talks on a forum to focus on how Asian economies could solve their problems collectively.

BFA was founded by China and 26 Australasian states on February 27, 2001. The organisation held its first meeting during April 12-13, 2002, and graduated from a tent to an awe-inspiring international convention centre.

The BFA continues with China as the central theme. Not only are the Chinese the largest number of delegates, the media is also largely China-centric.


Today, the wheel has come full circle — the International Monetary Fund (IMF) during the 1997 Asian financial crisis had attributed the primary responsibility of the crisis to the shortcomings of East Asian financial markets and prescribed an overhaul of their financial systems.

This year at the BFA meet in Boao, the head of IMF, Christine Lagarde, acknowledged: “I dare not imagine where the world economy might be today without Asia. This region has been the consistent global growth leader — driving an astonishing two-third of total growth in the five years since the crisis hit."

While the BFA has not achieved the size or depth of Davos, it has the potential to emerge as Asia’s answer to Davos. It derives its inspiration from the Asian dream — a dream for Asian leadership and industry to come together on a common platform and discuss issues of relevance to Asian economies.

This year the Forum marked another milestone in its growth with the participation of over 2,000 delegates and some 200 large media organisations.

Seven Presidents and 3 Prime Ministers addressed the sessions that saw an impressive participation of business leaders, former politicians, heads of global institutions and experts across different fields.

Over 40 CEOs of the top Fortune 500 companies were present. Maybe half the number that goes annually to Davos, but even that is not insignificant. The Indian delegation, led by Naina Lal Kidwai, FICCI President and Country Head HSBC, India, comprised a dozen captains of industry.

Apart from Lagarde, former US secretary of Labor Elaine Lan Chao, Hollywood director James Cameron and investor-philanthropist George Soros besides several Nobel Laureates were present.


This year there was also a divergence. Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates talked on investment for the poor, while Hsing Yun, founder of the Taiwan-headquartered Buddha's Light International Association, dwelt on the crisis of honesty and integrity in China.

In fact, the Forum saw debates on several taboo topics including China’s one-child policy, governance and economic models.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard put it rather well when she referred to it as “a global forum with Asian conversations”. In fact, the theme this year was specific and yet somewhat of a Chinese mouthful: "Asia seeking development for all: Restructuring, responsibility and cooperation". Asia ‘seeking’, world listening.

The 12th edition of the Boao Forum for Asia considered issues that are defining growth in emerging markets such as education vs employment and quantity vs quality of growth.

There is even more justification today than ever before to engage deeper with the BFA to achieve common growth goals. For starters we could upgrade our participation and even look at engaging sectoral councils of the BFA in India.

The author is Secretary General, FICCI.