Davos: Nothing more than showy fraternising

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has acquired an enviable brand equity of sorts by virtue of the pretentious build-up it has given to itself as “an independent international organisation committed to improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas.”

Every year, large numbers of heads of states and governments, top professionals and policy makers of various countries, cocks-of-the-walk in business, industry, trade and commerce, and economic players, in general, troop to Davos and regale captive listeners with their own diagnoses of the ills of the world and their prescriptions for curing them.

It is a many-splendoured gathering replete with glittering bashes, grandstanding postures, convivial commingling and pleasurable socialising.

This year, the Indian contingent blazened a new trail by establishing an adda, though it came at an enormous cost of Rs 100 crore, willingly spent by the federations of Indian industries and commerce, just for keeping it going for a few days.

Inspired move

The adda, by the way, is a unique Bengali institution going back to the dawn of its cultural tradition. It does not lend itself to any clear-cut definition. It can be explained very roughly as an informal and loose get-together of gregarious souls with no preset agenda, gossiping and pontificating at large about nothing in particular, for as long as fancy moves them, loaded with sweets and savouries and lubricated by a constant flow of sugary tea. Nothing captures better the quintessence of the WEF, and whoever thought of transporting the adda to Davos deserves kudos for the most inspired move of the decade.

Coming to brass tacks: There can be no more ambitious, almost grandiose, mission than what the WEF has set before itself: “Improving the state of the world by engaging leaders in partnerships to shape global, regional and industry agendas”. Has the WEF lived up to its promise? Other than the ambrosial ambience, what policies, strategies, action plans or approaches designed by the Forum could be said to be perceptibly different from those contained in the proceedings of conferences and reports of various multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organisation, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and such other groupings?

Déjà vu feeling

A quick once-over of its record from 1979 onwards (the year-wise gist is given in > http://schwabfound.weforum.org/en/about/History%20and%20Achievements/index.htm) brings out very little of any great significance. Just take a peek at the years 2005-10 (to go back no farther): In 2005, WEF “works closely” with the Prime Minister of the UK, Tony Blair, to set his G-8 policy priorities of poverty alleviation in Africa and climate change. In 2006, The Global Plan to stop Tuberculosis is launched. In 2007, the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, sets out Germany's G-8 objectives of “growth and responsibility”. In 2008, the Japanese Prime Minister, Yasuo Fukuda, unveils a five-year, $10-billion fund to support efforts against global warming in developing countries. In 2009, the WEF goes into the origins of, and remedies for, the global financial crisis. The just concluded 2010 meeting gave a clarion call — Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild — leading to the setting up of the adda!

I certainly get a distinct déjà vu feeling of being repetitively treated to stale formulas and frameworks that had been the stock-in-trade of many other forums. It is a mystery why honchos of every description turn up at Davos with such alacrity when the outcome is not worth the unconscionable waste of time and resources it entails. If only they spend all that time at home channelling their creativity and ingenuity to solve the country-specific and industry-cum-business-specific issues and devote the money to philanthropic causes, they could show far better results.

Whatever the original justification, Davos has outlived its utility and has become a costly jamboree. Best to wind it up.

Published on January 31, 2011
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