I have now been attending Davos for 7-8 years wearing my Spouse hat. Some things have certainly changed; some of my esteemed friends complain that it is now too democratic and that they have to rub shoulders, literally, with the hoi polloi from the East and the young impertinent finance types. When I started, I was like a young bride – nervous, excited and expectant. I was not disappointed.
For all those Davos sceptics, a confession – I come back invigorated, my head buzzing with ideas and a sense of comfort from the discovery that ‘experts’ too are fallible. The atmosphere is charged with political tensions, economic flashpoints, new frontiers in science, and lots of sharp good-looking finance types with even better looking wives. The only dampener is that you have to keep moving from one meeting centre to another often walking through snow and slush and need to take off and put on heavy outer gear several times during the day. It can be exhausting. A few observations on this year’s programme; things are different from normal. Indians are conspicuous by their presence as the Chinese are by their small numbers.
So what is new – well, that this is somewhat in inverse proportion to their economic well being, growth and standing in the eyes of the world. There is a murmur that the ‘I’ should be dropped from the BRIC. Clearly, the handiwork of vested interests, don’t you think. Unfortunately, even Jim O’Neill in his book “The Growth Map” praises China and is somewhat less encouraging about India. All the usual suspects are there; meeting ground for – politics, civil service, business, science, academics, NGOs, activists, art, cinema and technology. However, something feels different – the mood is sombre. All the Masters of the Universe (MOTUs), the movers and shakers and decision-makers seem to be taking the back seat and for once are not opining, but listening. There are no sweeping forecasts on economy, politics, and the state of the world – there is, instead, an attempt at building scenarios. There is a genuine spirit of enquiry into how did we land where we have despite our best intentions.
Unlike previous years, this year the regular issues like sustainability, emerging markets and rogue states have taken the back seat to debates on leadership and values, capitalism – the default system for a civilised world or so we thought, challenges to global growth, risks and rewards of technology and social connectivity, globalisation – the failed messiah that was meant to bring equality, and above all the price we have all paid for our profligacy. I think the theme should be SOUL SEARCHING – let us cut to the chase please. Time to stop, think and debate – how did we get here, why was what seemed good for all hijacked by lords of finance and big corporations for their own good. Everything this year seems under scrutiny.