Davos is little more than a global talk show

Davos’s 2024 agenda focuses on four key areas at a time when the world is more fractured than it has been for decades.
Davos’s 2024 agenda focuses on four key areas at a time when the world is more fractured than it has been for decades.


  • The World Economic Forum’s annual gathering has been losing both weight and appeal in a sharply divided world. Today, its lofty aims represent the triumph of hope over experience.

The world’s biggest talk show is on: the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) 54th Annual Meeting at Davos began this Monday and ends on Friday. As in the past, this year too, the WEF conclave in the Swiss skiing resort, where they have been held for half a century, is being attended by a veritable who’s-who of business, politics and media. 

The WEF website says more than 300 public figures will participate, including more than 60 heads of state and government, together with an estimated 1,600 business leaders, apart from chiefs of multilateral institutions like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization, etc. But a careful perusal of the list of attendees shows that the number of notable absentees has grown over the years. 

Sure, business leaders still flock to Davos, but important politicians, who once made a beeline for it and without whom grandiose ideas of global cooperation remain a pipe-dream, are noticeably absent. Among the G7, only France and the EU are represented this year, the former by President Emmanuel Macron and the latter by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The US is represented by its Secretary of State Antony Blinken, while India has sent a 100-member delegation led by Smriti Irani, Union minister of women and child development.

“At a time when global challenges require urgent solutions, innovative public-private collaboration is necessary to convert ideas into action," said Børge Brende, president of the WEF since 2017, on the eve of this January’s huddle. “The Forum provides the structure for developing research, alliances and frameworks that promote mission-driven cooperation throughout the year… [and] will serve as an accelerator of that cooperation, deepening connections between leaders and between initiatives." 

Really? To the discerning, this year’s theme of ‘Rebuilding Trust’ (aimed at “restoring collective agency, and reinforcing the fundamental principles of transparency, consistency and accountability among leaders") seems ironic, coming as it does at a time when the world is more fractured than it has been for decades. 

Geopolitical trust has broken down amid two raging conflicts—Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Gaza—and attacks by Houthi militia on ships in the Red Sea that threaten to disrupt trade. Davos’s 2024 agenda focuses on four key areas: Achieving security and cooperation in a fractured world, creating growth and jobs for a new era, artificial intelligence (AI) as a driving force for the economy and society, and a long-term strategy for climate, nature and energy. 

All this is laudable. Except that the world has not seen much progress on any of these fronts, despite the existence of multilateral entities dedicated to such aims with major powers at their top table: the United Nations for security, the Bretton Woods twins for economic growth, Unesco for AI and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, among others.

The net result is that Davos has become little more than a global talk show. A glitzy one, if you will, but one that is not expected to achieve very much, not even grab the news headlines it once did. Nevertheless, it soldiers on—as an example, perhaps, of the triumph of hope over experience. 

But then, to the extent every little effort counts in forging a better understanding of our common challenges across national borders, no one will dispute that Davos has a contribution to make, no matter how tiny.

Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.