The World Economic Forum’s annual conference has become the cultural epicentre for the world’s elite, a place where 2,500 of the world’s most important politicians and industry leaders descend to discuss the state of global affairs. Taking place atop the Swiss mountain resort of Davos this week, the conference has become infamous for its closed off atmosphere, reserved to billionaires, industry leaders and government officials from every corner of the globe.
However this year the conference takes a slightly awkward turn, in a year dedicated to ‘Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World’, towards a very uncertain future as it welcomes the most divisive figure of world politics President Donald J Trump, the first sitting president of America to join since Bill Clinton. Against the backdrop of the rising threat of technology in the workforce, the outbreak of sexual harassment and gender politics as well as ongoing international tensions, security for the 4-day conference is as high as it has ever been, no doubt due to President Trump’s appearance alongside other state leaders such as Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau. In fact, the total cost of security measures – including army personnel, stop and search measures in restricted zones and even ‘no fly’ zones restricting airspace to hang gliders, paragliders and drones – comes close to £7 million.
Whilst Trump’s appearance continues to unsettle the Davos community, the threat of terror emanating from groups like ISIS is very real. The Forum released a statement telling CNBC ‘that the terrorist threat in Switzerland remains high. In particular the interests on Swiss soil of countries involved in the military coalition against Islamic State – Russian, Jewish/Israeli, Iranian and Arabian interests – could be targeted.’
In spite of these security concerns, the conference is set to steam ahead as usual to tackle some of the great economic and geopolitical issues set to dominate politics and industry in 2018. However, this year’s instalment has some noticeable differences from previous years; taking into account growing public debate regarding gender equality and the representation of women in high-level positions, for the first time in the 47-year history of Davos there will be an all-female group of co-chairs including Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund and Indian social entrepreneur Chetna Sinha. According to Sharan Burrow of the International Trade Union Confederation, another of the co-chairs, this decision “sends a strong signal that all is not right in the world”.
In another bid to adapt to the serious social and political preoccupations of the moment, the Forum has highlighted 8 issues to be discussed as part of a ‘We Need To Talk About’ panel. Over the course of the 4 days, Davos attendees will participate in discussions on the following focus points; Privilege, Immigration, Harassment, Religion, Mental Health, Race, LGBTQ Identity, Disability. While these alterations in the programme signal some willingness to progress with the times, Davos is still a notoriously elite conference, much like Bilderberg, another similar conference held annually in a luxury Dresden hotel. Let’s hope the participants of the conference keep the rest of the world in mind as they meet this year.