The theme for this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, is “Shaping the Post-Crisis World.” And the question on everyone’s mind is “when exactly will this post-crisis world be starting?” Soon, we all hope.
Davos is often useful as a barometer of what is utmost on the minds of opinion-shapers and so is seen as an agenda-setter. But this year, the recession has generously taken care of that: for 2008, “it’s the economy, stupid.”
As I prepare for my fifth Davos, I look back at the past few years and reflect on the issues and people who seem to come and go. Three years ago, Jeffrey Sachs was everywhere--with his celebrity posse of Angelina Jolie, Bono, and Sharon Stone--and bed nets and other poverty alleviation efforts were center stage.
In 2007, Martin Sullivan, the now deposed CEO of AIG, dispensed wisdom on how he managed his company without using email (maybe email is not so bad after all?) He’s now gone from the scene, washed away by last fall’s financial crisis.
And just last year, emerging market representatives spoke proudly of how China, India, and company had “decoupled” from the U.S. economy as the main engine of growth. With China reporting flat growth this past December and India struggling to keep pace with its targets, that talk looks remarkably premature.
So while it’s tempting to think about Davos as a gathering of the entrenched elite, the reality in today’s world is that such status is more fleeting. All these comings and goings are a reminder that the world does not always follow the script written at Davos.
Even so, the event is a rich array of networking and learning. Over the next five days, I’ll be listening for--and sharing with you here--hints of the answers to these questions:
- Does anyone really have a sense of when the recession will end?
- How much worse is it likely to get?
- Will the preoccupation with core economic activity shove sustainability to the sidelines?
- How will business and government address the trust deficit?
- What is the world expecting of President Obama?
- Is economic development and poverty reduction only an afterthought these days?
- Will any notable new ideas emerge--and what topics are going ignored?
So check back often as I look to answer these questions--and ask new ones--that explore the speeding rate of change the past year has brought.
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