Cantillon: They’re just like us at Davos, honest

Though very few of the lofty thinkers are young women ... or women...or young

Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo!  during a break in sessions on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! during a break in sessions on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.


The forearms in Davos must have ached from all the back-slapping this week, as Sheryl congratulated Enda, Denis boosted the telecoms executives with his stock picks and everybody tried to capture a flattering selfie with Bono.

By all accounts, the five-day Swiss fiesta is both an invigorating and exhausting affair, although the quiet death a few years ago of a party long hosted by Goldman Sachs may have helped on the latter front. Fun and edifying as the whole thing might be however, what is its actual worth to the rest of us?

As always, there are two schools of thought on this, with those who “like” it in the vein of Sheryl Sandberg’s Facebook presumably appreciating its ability to forge new relationships, build on old ones and (in the case of Enda Kenny, say) get important points across to people who matter.

It is indeed certain that the Swiss mountain village is stuffed with heavy-hitters and lofty thinkers for a week every year, and that it is people like this who tend to influence the way we live, but it is a different thing to accept that Davos is a natural home for all that is worth knowing in geo-political-economic-social-commercial-blah-de-blah thought .

The World Economic Forum annual meeting had more than 2,000 delegates this year, of whom roughly 15 per cent were women. As well as being dominated by men, Davos was also top-heavy this year (as usual) with those in their late 40s and early 50s, with just a handful of delegates in their early 20s, another four or five in their 80s and one hardy individual in his 90s.

The WEF’s mission at Davos is to create “a multistakeholder audience of decision-makers and uniquely influential individuals to examine the most pressing global issues of our time and to devise possible solutions.” The composition of the delegate list undoubtedly reflects this mission, but whether this is the correct mission or not is a different question. Perhaps the words “inclusion” and “diversity” might be added for next year?

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