I’ve just had an exchange with a friend where I sought advice on whether to go to a particular conference. “I’m a sceptic on conferences,” I wrote. So why, you may ask, was I so deeply involved with Davos?
As I’ve written here before, the World Economic Forum is careful never to use the word “conference” for what it does. Davos is a “meeting” (it is, in fact, the annual meeting of the members of the World Economic Forum). What’s the difference? At one level, it’s purely semantic. But for me, and I’m pretty sure for my former colleagues at the Forum, the difference is substantive. At a conference, speakers get up on a platform and speak to an audience. At a meeting, everyone is a participant. That’s why people in Davos are never attendees or, horror of horrors, delegates (who delegated them?). They are always participants.
I had a call yesterday from a television producer who is doing a series on dissent for Britain’s Channel 4. He wants to film in Davos as an example of the movement against globalisation and the sense that so many have that they are disenfranchised from key decisions.
Although there are plenty of powerful people within the Congress Centre in Davos, I don’t think that decisions are really made there. I hope and believe that thinking can be changed in Davos, that CEOs that spend 360-odd days each year being shielded consciously or unconsciously from dissenting views, can have their minds opened to some extent. That’s what happens in the very best of Davos.
I’d like to think the C4 film could show that, but I suspect events will strongly conspire against it. The producer has already had a rejection from the Forum about filming in the Congress Centre. Part of that is an institutional immune reaction to the unknown. But it is also inspired by a good impulse. The Congress Centre is zoo-like during Davos, with too many participants and media shoved into a facility not really designed for the numbers. Film crews, even lithe, nimble ones, are a definite intrusion. So the Forum has a draconian limitation on them. That’s probably right.