The World Economic Forum is grappling with an image problem

The World Economic Forum is trying to fix the image problem.

Nearly 2,500 global leaders from business, politics and civil society are expected to join a rare spring edition of Davos this week.

The annual meeting will see campaigners and car shakers convened at the luxury Alpine ski resort of Switzerland’s Davos for 5 days to chat on issues including Covid-19, the war of Russia in Ukraine and the climate crisis.

The event organizers have adjourn the meeting from the traditional January position of safety concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, to welcome the locals, the forum’s first live event is now back after a two-year hiatus.

The theme This year’s event is “History at a Turning Point: Government Policies and Business Strategy.”

“It means a lot to us. It means a lot to the whole of Switzerland,” Samuel Rosenast, a spokesman for the local tourist board, said in an interview with CNBC. Tom Chitty.

Rosenast said the event was “unbelievably important” for those living in Europe’s tallest town, estimating that the resort could rake in around 70 million Swiss francs ($72 million) just in this week.

“Every business is exposed to the World Economic Forum. Everyone knows how important it is,” Rosenast said. “Most people here are looking forward to the World Economic Forum. They are very happy that it is happening here again this year.”

‘Symbol of an era of failure’

That’s not to say everyone is thrilled to see the return of business and political elites in the Swiss Alps. The event has been harshly criticized in recent years for out of reach, inefficient and irrelevant.

Three years ago, Dutch historian Rutger Bregman went viral at a conference in Davos when he urged billionaires to avoid taxes. In a clip that has now been viewed nearly 11 million times, Bregman says the global failure to effectively tackle tax avoidance is a major driver of inequality.

Bregman said at the time: “It felt like I was at a conference about firefighters and nobody was allowed to talk about water. “This isn’t rocket science…we have to talk about taxes. That’s it. Taxes, taxes, taxes.”

The Swiss ski resort of Davos is the venue for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Harold Cunningham | Getty Images News | beautiful pictures

More recently, protesters, activists and those on the front lines of inequality have sought to challenge the WEF on “empty rhetoric“accusing Davos of representing ‘a symbol of an era of failure’ should be left behind.

A report released Monday by global charity Oxfam found that 573 people have become new billionaires during the coronavirus pandemic – at a rate of one every 30 hours. The summary, titled “Profit from Pain,” predicts that an additional 263 million people will fall into extreme poverty this year at a rate of 1 million every 33 hours.

“Billionaires are coming to Davos to celebrate the incredible increase in their fortunes. The pandemic and now the sharp rise in food and energy prices,” said Gabriela Bucher, chief executive officer of Oxfam International. .

“Meanwhile, decades of progress in extreme poverty are now reversing and millions are facing an impossible increase at the cost of survival.”

In his youth, Philipp Wilhelm was one of those who opposed the annual gathering of billionaires and political leaders in the town where he was born. Now, however, Wilhelm is the mayor of Davos, and his goal is to organize a successful meeting.

“I protested during the annual meeting because for me it was important to express that it’s really important for us to tackle this climate crisis. And we need to make the world one. a fairer place,” said Wilhelm.

Wilhelm said he took part in the protests because he felt it was essential to make sure that everyone who came to Davos “gets the message that addressing these issues is really important.”

The “Davos man” has in itself become a stereotypical image of a typical Forum participant – rich and powerful, maybe out of place, but above all representative of the global elite. bridge.

Fabrice Coffrini | Afp | beautiful pictures

Wilhelm said he – and the WEF – have changed their positions since the days of protest, adding that he believes he can influence policy more effectively in his current role.

When asked if he was concerned that criticism of the WEF had become too tight-lipped on Davos as the town itself has become largely interchangeable with the forum, Wilhelm replied: “No, It doesn’t bother me at all.”

“I think it’s interesting that people know Davos as a place where people meet and discuss – and I mean it should be controversial. There needs to be a discussion about the right way to improve the state of the world. world,” said Wilhelm.

Davos 2022 is ‘a milestone’

“The work of the forum is ongoing. The meeting is an important milestone in the near-term,” said Saadia Zahidi, executive director of the World Economic Forum.

“What we’ve been doing over the last two and a half years – while it’s not seen through a specific meeting – is a collection of work that is trying to improve inequality and at the same time create making changes towards addressing one of the greatest existential risks we all face, which is climate change.”

When asked if rising income inequality would become a forum specific issue, Zahidi replied: “Inequality is a world problem. I think we know that societies not fighting inequality will have slower growth rates.”

“And so there needs to be an effort to tackle inequality. Now what does that do? Better education, better skills, better jobs, solving problems like taxes and change change the very nature of our economies so that they really work for everyone, not just a few,” said Zahidi. “That will be at the forefront of next week’s agenda.”

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