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THE IMPORTANCE OF THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

By Joan Yocco Veon

For the past 30 years the World Economic Forum has invited a "Who’s Who" to meet and discuss "the State of the World. Davos, one of the favorite ski resorts of the rich and famous, is 5000 feet up in the Swiss Alps where the air is mountain pure and the view breath taking. The Forum brings together chief executive officers of the world’s top 1000 corporations, heads of major UN organs, agencies, and commissions, and world leaders such as President Bill Clinton, Britain’s Prime Minister Tony Blair, and the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.

A cross section of the rich and powerful come to Davos each year. Among those in attendance are kings, sheiks, princes, grand dukes and dukes. Last year two kings, a Grand Duke and over two dozen knights, baronesses, lords and dames attended while three sheikhs from Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain grace the Forum this year.

Political leaders from the United States have included Hillary Clinton in 1998, former Vice President Gore in 1999, and former President Clinton in 2000 who brought along about a dozen members of his cabinet. This year, as a result of the new administration, Congressmen Howard Berman D-CA, David Dreier R-CA, Jennifer Dunn R-WA, Jim Kolbe R-AZ and Jim Leach R-IA are in attendance along with Governors Thomas Ridge-PA, Bill Owens-CO and George Pataki-NY and Senators Christopher Dodd D-CN, Diane Feinstein D-CA, Orin Hatch R-UT, and John Kerry D-MA.

It is estimated that the wealth of the corporations totals about $4 trillion, not counting personal wealth. With this kind of money, power, position, lineage, and brain power--security is tight. However, this year, as a result of demonstrations last year by WTO-protestors and demonstrations this year, security is even tighter and comprised of Swiss police, Swiss Army as well as private security. The weapon of choice: a machine gun. Shopkeepers are preparing ahead of time for the worst by boarding up their store windows. Just because Seattle looked like downtown Kosovo, they don’t want Davos to suffer the same consequences of anarchy.

During this time, anyone and everyone who is anyone in the world of business, national politics, global politics and academia has an opportunity to hobnob and exchange views, information, and business tips
 
 
 
 
 
 

Why do CEO’s seek an invitation to come to Davos? The CEO of Case Company, a Midwest agricultural and construction manufacturer, Jean-Pierre Rosso, said two years ago when I interviewed him that he comes to get "a pulse on the state of the world in one week" while another from Venezuela said he comes to "seek truth". When I asked a first timer why he had come, he told me he had received invitations for three years in a row to attend. The last invitation stated in no uncertain terms that he would never be asked again if he did not respond. When I asked what his impressions were, he whispered, "Did you ever read Captains and Kings?" When I asked how he got invited, he said he did not know and when he inquired, they told him, they have their ways of finding people like him. He told me it was a little nerve-racking.

My impression of Davos is that it resembles a "United Nations mega-conference" for the rich and powerful. About three hundred plus workshops are available for these industry captains, kings, and queens. Both innovative and cutting edge ideas are debated along with considering "what is." Work shops include: "The Role of Islam in Bridging the Religious Divide", "The Shape of the 21st Century Corporation," "The Taxman Cometh: Harmonization in the Global Economy" which discusses the concept of global tax harmonization, "E-Government: The Next Revolution," and "Addressing the Backlash against Globalization." This year Sam Johnson, Chairman Emeritus, S. C. Johnson & Son Inc. will participate in a workshop dealing with climate warming and the Kyoto Protocol.

Corporate executives include US executives such as Ken Lay (Enron), Bill Gates (Microsoft), William Clay Ford, Ford Motor, David Rockefeller, Former Chairman Chase Manhattan Bank, and Sir John Browne, Group Chief Executive, BP Amoco as well as the CEO’s of Japanese, Russian, European, African and other multinational corporations. Interestingly enough, on this level there is no philosophical difference.

Those in attendance also represent the Council on Foreign Relations, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the International Chamber of Commerce, and the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum.

But what has been the real affect of the World Economic Forum? In the words of Professor Klaus Schwab, its founder, "The power is not here because it’s the World Economic Forum. The power is here because you have the UN, World Bank, International Monetary Fund-IMF, and the business community. We are an integrator and catalyst in taking the initiatives to develop this framework even further."

While the conference’s main theme changes on a yearly basis, Klaus Schwab’s powerful underlying theme is the same: the need for a global partnership between the United Nations [World Bank and IMF], the world’s 189 countries, and civil society as represented by non-governmental organizations and multi-national corporations. In an unprecedented move, at the 1996 Conference on Human Settlements, referred to as "Habitat II", the United Nations called for partnerships between governments and civil society. Since then there has been continuous activity as two of the world’s most powerful organizations, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Prince of Wales Business Leaders Forum, have linked up with not only the United Nations but with numerous countries around the world to form public-private partnerships.

How does a public-private partnership work? It is exactly what it says it is. First it is a partnership that is a business arrangement for profit. This arrangement is sealed by a formal business contract. In business a partnership provides its partners with the most flexible arrangement for doing business that there is. A partnership can have two or more partners and it can have several layers of partnerships, all of which are interrelated. Secondly its partners are both public, meaning government, and private, meaning individuals, corporations foundations and/or non-governmental organizations. In Racine, Sustainable Racine is such an arrangement.

The public partners include all levels of government from local to county, state, regional and federal government in addition to international agencies and foreign governments. For the most part, private partners, such as mentioned include several environmental non-governmental organizations which will be participating for the first time at Davos.

Last year President Clinton told participants that as a result of globalization, we are one, hammering on the difference between choosing partnership versus isolationism and protectionism. Clinton said, "Globalization is revolutionizing the way we work, the way we live and the way we relate to one another across national boundaries. It is tearing down barriers and building up networks between nations and individuals, between economies and cultures." He continued, "We cannot build our own future without helping others to build theirs." He said that all of the new networks must lead to new arrangements. Beginning in 1997, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has addressed the World Economic Forum, specifically calling for a "Global Compact" between the United Nations and businesses, a theme which will be revisited this year.

The bottom line: Change—everything is changing. At the end of one week what will they conclude? The world is not as big as it once used to be. We are basically one. What affects us globally is felt locally. Controversial topics like the environment, climate warming, and peace will always be debated. What better place than Davos Switzerland at the World Economic Forum?