The pictures: view from hotel window in Klosters (village near Davos); Riz Khan of the Riz Khan Show; The kids in the freezing cold CNN tent; Davos mountain; Climate Change group location hut.
Yes, Dear Readers: the rumours are true.
I journeyed to the Emerald City of DavOz; put on my green-tinted spectacles; met legendary beings; almost froze to death as I wheezed and slithered along the high-altitude perpendicular streets; passed through one security check after another under the kindly gaze of preternaturally-smiley Stepford Security Folk – the place is sealed up tighter than Stephen Harper’s secret agenda; accepted help from strangers – Where am I ? Which train? What shuttlebus? Where’s the staircase? — and made it back alive, clutching a Crystal Award (it actually is a crystal!) and a very nice box of chocolates.
Possibly you’re expecting me to say that the World Economic Forum consists of a bunch of money-grubbing trolls who do nothing more useful than award themselves fat bonuses. But I’m not going to say that. Possibly there were some such trolls in attendance, but they weren’t the people I met. A few years ago this would not have been such an interesting place. But now, most world leaders know the planet is in trouble. Financial trouble, environmental trouble – both of which will give rise to social trouble and indeed political turmoil if left untreated.
What is the World Economic Forum? It’s a gathering. For forty years it’s been bringing people together, not only from the political and financial realms, but from NGOs and the arts. From the beginning, the WEF grasped the principle that although everything may have an economic dimension – poets have to eat – everything also has an emotional dimension, even — and especially — money. (Think about who gets what under Granny’s will, and what family havoc then ensues.)
The youngest person I met was a charming fellow who teaches break-dancing to street kinds in Portugal. (Joao Brites, email@example.com), followed by Josh Spear of Undercurrent.com and some geeks in the bus who were deconstructing the IPad. (“My mother will like it,” they said crushingly, which should not bother Apple: there are a lot of mothers.) All these kids doubtless had something to do with the Young Global Leaders Forum (www.younggloballeaders.org), 650 enterprising youngies from over 90 countries.
I had various serendipitous encounters – Louise Arbour of the International Crisis Group (www.crisisgroup.org) at the coat check, Julia Lalla-Maharajh of www.endfgmnow.org at a lunch – difficult to eat while considering this problem — and a lovely young woman who consulted me about lipstick shades (as if I knew), and who turned out to be the founder of International Bridges to Justice www.ibj.org, a courageous outfit that works with police in developing countries to try to prevent torture. These social-benefit orgs were doubtless connected with the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship ( www.schwabfound.org), another important plank of the WEF.
There were a lot of women present — many in business itself, others in the arts and in orgs. (They had better outfits than mine. I lack little suits.) According to the WEF, the biggest emerging market is not China, but women – a trend it welcomes, as the prosperity of a country rises dramatically as women increase their earning and spending power. Better education for girls and women was strongly on the agenda, and there were several working groups devoted to women from a socio-economic viewpoint. (Closer to home, see: Economic Club of Canada firstname.lastname@example.org “Unleashing the Economic Power of Girls,” Feb. 25 in Toronto.) In the developing world especially, growing $ power will be facilitated by truly mobile wireless banking, and by mobile-phone Point of Sale enterprises like Square that allow the individual to become a merchant without need of land-lines.
The biggest story however was the Climate Change Initiative and Low-Carbon Prosperity group. Their working session was packed with a large number of powerful individuals representing ultra-powerful institutions. The Canadian government wasn’t there, but strangely enough I was, and as we gnawed away on our virtuous sandwiches, we heard from South Korea – coming on strong! – Mexico ditto, China ditto, the U.S. government, the legendary George Soros, the reforestation folks, the big US energy companies and the Smart Grid folks, and … well, gosh, Dear Readers! I’m a hard case, being so old and jaded and all, but I was RVI. (Really Very Impressed.) These people are serious – a little late, maybe, but better late than never. They’ve rolled up their sleeves. They are cause for cautious optimism.
Sadly, however, Canada did not shine like a star, at this or any other WEF event. Despite its up-to-snuff performance in Haiti and its usefully stodgy banking regulations, it rated a big D on its report card from its murky performance at Copenhagen. Off-the-record conversations indicated that the current government is viewed as sorely retrograde by those in other countries, especially but not exclusively in relation to climate change and green energy initiatives. By its own choice, it’s not really an active part of the conversation. But if Canada stays on the sidelines during upcoming initiatives, the cost to its citizens in future years will be jobs and investment, and lots of both.
Happily, some of the Canadian provinces are viewed as more aware. Let’s hope the light bulb goes on in the collective Canadian governmental mind, or quite a few actual light bulbs will be going off. Maybe we’ll fulfill the wishes of some of our very own fellow-citizens and freeze in the dark. (Fewer carbon emissions that way, though. Never say I’m not upbeat.)