Is elitist Davos disconnected from reality?
As the winter sets in, "See you at Davos!" becomes a staple sign-off greeting. I have always wondered if it's a status statement or a hidden question to check if you belong. The reason is apparent. Every year, the World Economic Forum (WEF) at Davos hosts thousands of eminent delegates, including tens of heads of states, hundreds of CEOs, academicians, religious gurus, Nobel laureates, experts and a few ungrateful people like me.
I call myself ungrateful because over the years I have nursed two grievances or questions vis-a-vis the Forum: Why does a congregation attended by so many, so very important people produce so little? And more importantly , has the elitist culture at Davos, created a rarefied air around the whole platform which has somewhat disconnected it from ground realities?
Troubled with these recurring thoughts, I set out to test my discomforting hypothesis/assumptions this year. My first port of call was the event agenda itself. Its 80-page-long list of some 200+ sessions overwhelmed me at first. But as I looked closer, the fine print started reading like a fairy tale.
Sessions like 'Renaissance women' (when in the real world women like Nirbhaya struggle to maintain their basic dignity every day), 'personalized medicine' (when millions die untreated every day), fanfare around European heads of states (when there are 14 million youth in the region looking for jobs every day) indeed punched in a 'disconnect' with ground realities, with the cherry on the cake being absence of focus on terrorism and state-level corruption! Concerned with the anomaly, I asked my social media universe to nominate the issues they want the WEF leaders to focus on this year. Comment after comment cited the same things — employment, sustainability, corruption, terrorism, education and safety for the common man. When I tallied them with the responses I had received on the same question last year, I was amazed with the similarities.
The message was loud and clear: Can you guys focus on the basic issues and help fix them first rather than jumping to the next cool topic and getting trapped in the charms of the exotic 200 sessions?
As the third test of relevance, I looked further in the social media universe for any other connecting dots. Sure enough YouTube had a story to tell as well. TED's top 10 YouTube videos got almost 25 times more hits than WEF's despite the fact that WEF's Top 10 featured nine heads of states whereas TED's featured largely unknown individuals . I wondered if the reason for TED's success was that it spotlights meritorious ideas that people can learn from and act upon, ideas that change and improve the world.
As a further proof of this incongruity, WEF's speaker list this year did not have two women who are my heroes and who have made the most impact on the world last year — 'Time Person of the Year' runners-ups, child education activist Malala Yousafzai and 'God particle' scientist Fabiola Gianotti!
So why am I heading to Davos ? I guess my reason is that there is no other equivalent platform in the world where so many diverse ideas and thoughts come together.
Thus it is a great starting point to catalyze change with three simple questions: What if we focused only on five ideas for five days and consistently for five years? What if there is a compulsion to only talk actions and what if there is no place to hide in meetings and parties? What if the speakers are the doers and the listeners are the global leaders?
What if ?
The author, vice-chairman, HCL Tech, writes exclusively for TOI from WEF, Davos