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Last Updated: Friday, 28 January, 2005, 15:26 GMT
Living the Davos buzz
By Tim Weber
Business Editor, BBC News website, in Davos

Sharon Stone at the World Economic Forum in Davos
Davos - a place where business and fame sit comfortably side by side

Suddenly the media centre is abuzz.

No, it's not the hoped-for breakthrough deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I've just seen Sharon Stone," I hear in English, Spanish, Chinese and at least two other languages.

If you really want to play celebrity bingo, Davos is a good place to be.

"Did you see Bono in the session on brands?"... "I went to dinner and Angelina Jolie was there." ... "I saw Peter Gabriel at the IBM reception..."

And because this is the World Economic Forum, you will need to add business leaders to your A-list of celebrities - Bill Gates, George Soros and the like.

They are unlikely to feature in Hello magazine, so let the cover photos of Business Week, Forbes and Fortune be your guide.

Just talk

Wherever you turn in this concrete bunker that pretends to be a congress hall, there is somebody who is famous, probably very rich, certainly successful and with an interesting story to tell.

This is not for the socially shy.

Everyone dances the name-tag tango - furtively glancing at the ID cards dangling high up on our chests to see who is who, and who might be fun to talk to.

It does not matter whether they are the captain of a multinational corporate giant or a nifty serial inventor, walk up to them and chances are that he or she will be happy to talk.

Delegates at a buffet in Davos
You are never far away from a party or a free lunch in Davos

With a Swiss Alphorn trio playing avant-garde classical music - which sounds surprisingly nice - the networking and schmoozing is relentless.

Between sessions on topics like US leadership, malaria, quantum cryptography and the Chinese economy, the corridors bustle and people bounce among friends and first-time acquaintances.

For the five days of the forum, Davos becomes a party town.

At night, there are dozens of rival parties and receptions, sometimes separated by nothing more than curtains dividing the cavernous dining rooms of the luxury hotels that dot the steep hillside of this mountain village.

Davos gets a conscience?

But is this really the World Economic Forum?

On Wednesday, Aids and global warming were the main topics.

On Thursday, poverty reduction and the plight of Africa topped the agenda.

There are workshops - oversubscribed within hours - where serious business people intensely discuss how to help the poor.

UK prime minister Tony Blair and pop star Bono in Davos
Pop and politics claim to be singing from the same hymn sheet

And then there is Bono, the rock star and part-time anti-poverty campaigner.

He has come to "give applause when people get it right", singling out for praise UK prime minister Tony Blair and Microsoft boss Bill Gates - two of the anti-globalisation movement's favourite whipping boys.

This year, it's not just fleeting moments when the omnipresent slogan of Davos - "committed to improving the state of the world" - sounds pretty convincing.

So why do they come?

Delegates have been echoing this year's more positive and socially responsible sentiments.

Marc Benioff, boss of salesforce.com - one of the world's fastest growing software firms - comes here "to get a personal higher consciousness, get ideas how to do things for my foundation and my business".

Van Jones, founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, is excited because "at the grassroots, people have these stereotypes about business leaders, but in reality they are very aware of global problems, and themselves overwhelmed by their scale".

Fourteen years ago, says Pakistani prime minister Shaukat Aziz, Davos "had the feel of a club, there were no traffic jams, we all knew each other."

But it is still a great place to come to, he says: "It really opens your mind and makes you focus on issues that one doesn't always think about."

And that's something that all but the most jaded of participants can agree on.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Decisions and campaigns from the economic conference



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