Monthly Archives: February 2001

Davos Newbies Home

There are a lot of Davos me-toos, but a particularly interesting one (at least in its motivation) is having its first meeting.

The Forum for Asia has convened in Bo’ao, on the Chinese island of Hainan. Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, on occasional Davos visitor, was the featured speaker on the opening day. Mahathir has an unparalleled record for upsetting the western consensus on a range of issues. He didn’t disappoint yesterday, proposing a tax on the world’s rich countries to fund infrastructure development in poorer countries.

That is precisely what the World Bank spends a lot of time doing, and it is funded by the rich countries. But Mahathir is a vocal opponent of the World Bank and the IMF, so he presumably wants a fund that might be more within the control of him and his cohorts.

What does Bo’ao have to counter Davos? It’s tropical rather than Alpine, but its trump card seems to be a close relationship to the Chinese government. President Jiang Zemin attended the opening, and, according to the Financial Times, part of the motivation for the forum is to raise Asia’s intellectual profile.

Whether Bo’ao can actually become a rival to Davos itself is open to doubt. Of the 178 participants to the inaugural meeting, only 20 are from the private sector. And public figures seem to be mostly “formers”, like former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke and former Philippines president Fidel Ramos. One of the best principles of the World Economic Forum is no “formers”, even though the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Helmut Schmidt, Mikhail Gorbachev and George Bush senior spend a lot of their time adorning the world conference circuit.

***Hope it’s time for goodbyes

Coincidentally with his keynote in Bo’ao, the Financial Times is questioning whether Mahathir’s regime can last much longer. Although Malaysia has made extraordinary strides under Mahathir, there is a repressive, arrogant nastiness to the man and his works. I suspect a post-Mahathir Malaysia will conclude, like so many nations who have emerged from a similar period, that they are well rid of the man. The global scene will be less colourful, but happier.

Davos Newbies Home

One of the useful services the Forum offers is a reasonably accurate write-up of sessions in Davos and at regional meetings. Session summaries for Davos are now in theory accessible through the so-called Knowledge Navigator, which I think is an example of clever technology run riot.

The Knowledge Navigator provides a graphical display of themes, sessions and speakers. That works fine for me (but see below). But when I try to click on the summary, a window briefly opens and then closes. There seems to be some kind of JavaScript error. All too cleverly, the help link is also in JavaScript and also generates an error — so I can’t even get to any kind of online help.

Technical problems aside, my other problem with the Knowledge Navigator is the way it all too neatly categorises Davos sessions. People within the Forum (not, to my knowledge, in the programme team) have built a taxonomy of sessions that I find hard to navigate. And some of the best of Davos doesn’t fit neatly into the designed boxes.

I also have a very personal gripe with the Knowledge Navigator. By chance, the four sessions in which I had a role in Davos (including one plenary) are not listed in the Knowledge Navigator. I know they can’t cover everything, but I find it particularly strange that a full plenary (“Will humanity catch up with technology?”) wasn’t covered. Is it something I said?

***Greek lessons
I can’t get out of the habit of looking for Davos-like ideas. So I was intrigued by the UK Ministry of Defence’s just-issued The Future Strategic Context for Defence. There’s a lot of fascinating material here, but consider this reflection on climate change and conflict: “It is possible that global warming will become an increasing source of tension between industrialised countries, which are seen to be the primary source of the problem, and developing countries which bear the brunt of the effects.”

I also love that the paper begins with the story of Croesus, king of Lydia, and his consultation of the Oracle at Delphi (note for the narrow-minded: this has nothing to do with Larry Ellison’s Oracle) in 546BCE when he was wondering whether to attack the Persians. I won’t give the story away here (follow the link), but it shows good classical education still has an impact in the British civil service.

Davos Newbies Home

How many Davos participants will happily provide credit card details to the Forum in future? The BBC reports that hackers stole personal data in Davos. (If you read German, the original story from Sonntagszeitung is here, and the sidebar with details of the stolen data is here.) If I read the Swiss story correctly, the data stolen was not just Davos data, but the entire database of the Forum: hackers have made a CD with 161 megabytes of data, including 27,000 names and details of 1,400 credit card numbers.

Charles McLean, head of communications for the Forum, rightly condemns the theft. I think it’s revealing of the Forum’s comparatively leaden response to these issues that its own website contains nothing on the matter (in fact, the last press release is dated 30 January). If the theft was an “anti-globalisation” activity, as seems likely, it emphasises again how institutions in the firing line of these new wave protests are going to need to take extraordinary steps to protect themselves.

***How do you get into Davos (officially)?

A reader has asked a fundamental question: how does one attend the summit in Davos? The simple answer is that participation in Davos is by invitation only. There are four principal groups invited: corporates (almost all are CEOs of member companies of the Forum), political leaders (the Forum invites about 500 politicians each year), media (a pretty restrictive list) and Forum Fellows, who are the experts on various subjects. There are a variety of other constituents, but the first four provide over 90% of the participants.

So for interested individual, the chance of getting invited to Davos is slim. In compensation, the Forum does webcast a number of sessions. There is also an increasing band of people who come to Davos during the Annual Meeting each year to hang around, attend the unofficial receptions and parties and do what business they can do on the fringe of the summit. You need to be thick-skinned to do this, since being badgeless in Davos is a bit like being homeless in Beverly Hills. And spare hotel rooms are in very short supply.