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Last Updated: Sunday, 30 January, 2005, 19:43 GMT
Davos touches the MTV generation
By Tim Weber
Business Editor, BBC News website, in Davos

Bill Gates, Tony Blair, Bono
Davos attracted an influential mix

It was the most caring, sharing World Economic Forum yet, but do movie stars, politics and business really mix?

Hold on, can this be right? There is U2 lead singer Bono, enthusiastically shaking hands with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Millionaires swoon as Angelina Jolie, actress and UNHCR goodwill ambassador, walks through the Davos conference centre.

Forget macroeconomics or technology trends, the session with 'cultural leaders' like Richard Gere, Lionel Richie and Ms Jolie is fully booked first.

'Funding the war on poverty' - with US Republican Senator Bill Frist, Microsoft boss Bill Gates, Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, Brazil's President Lula da Silva, UK Chancellor Gordon Brown and others - could have been on the programme of any year.

But who is the woman in the audience who gets up, pledges $10,000 to fight malaria in Tanzania, and asks the others to follow suit.

It's Sharon Stone, and the business leaders in the audience forget their thrifty basic instincts and within 10 minutes have made pledges worth $1m.

Real artists?

The fashion sense hasn't changed (suit and snow boots), but this is not quite the Davos of old, and not everybody is happy.

"These are not cultural leaders," says more than one disgruntled participant, "Why don't they invite real artists?"

But rock and movie stars have their purpose.

They guarantee good photo opportunities, front page coverage, and show the MTV generation that the World Economic Forum can't be so bad after all.

Angelina Jolie
Angelina Jolie's Davos session was fully booked
But more has changed than the guest list.

For many years the World Economic Forum's annual meeting was "a symbol of rampant global capitalism... the 'greed is good' philosophy", recalls UK trade and industry minister Patricia Hewitt.

This year Davos feels different, she says.

On day one of the forum, some 700 top business people and political leaders held a "town hall meeting" to decide what the world's most burning issues are.

Their verdict: What worries us most are not taxes, overregulation and low-cost competition, but poverty, equitable globalisation and climate change.

And it is not an angry anti-globalisation campaigner that says "if you look at the wealth of the three richest people in the world, they earn more than the [gross domestic product] of the 48 poorest countries".

The speaker is Daniel Vasella, boss of Novartis, one of Europe's largest drugs companies.

Calling America

As every year, Davos was packed with top politicians.

Germany, Britain, Brazil, South Africa, Poland, Pakistan, and many others sent their heads of state or government.

This year the chemistry just wasn't right for me
Davos participant

But there was one glaring absence: From the US government only the outgoing top trade official (and soon to be deputy foreign minister) Robert Zoellick had made it to the Swiss mountain village.

Pity, if you want, Republican Senators Bill Frist and John McCain, who quickly became the designated punch bags for critics of US foreign policy.

Mr McCain spelled it out: "There's a lot of Anti-Americanism out there", and promised that President Bush's forthcoming trip to Europe would be a "listening tour".

Network central

Of course, business still dominated the agenda.

Robert Zoellick
Only one member of the US government turned up

Workshops and briefing sessions on everything from stem cell technology to outsourcing turned into master classes for business leaders.

And the forum was also the world's best destination to network.

Old friends talked business, new opportunities were explored.

Ron Kok, a Dutch serial inventor and founder of OTB Group chased a key man at IBM, because he needed a licence for one of their patents.

Forrester Research boss George Colony met many of his clients.

'Thought globalisation'

Two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs - who met for the first time here in Davos - agreed a joint family weekend.

It didn't work for everybody.

"I don't know, this year the chemistry just wasn't right for me," said a participant as he wrapped up warm to leave the Davos conference centre at the end of the annual meeting.

And some didn't go to any of the sessions at all, too exhausted after a relentless series of meetings.

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, was happy, because he made "amazing connections", with firm invitations to visit India, Australia and speak to the US Congress.

Davos, with its mix of cultures and backgrounds, opens the mind, said Mr Zander.

"This is thought globalisation."

See the famous faces joining the fight against poverty

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