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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 January 2006, 11:31 GMT
Snowy Davos goes back to business
By Tim Weber
Business Editor, BBC News website, in Davos

The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) is under way, and for five days it will be the subject of much attention, fascination and wrath.

Angelina Jolie, Hollywood star and UNHCR goodwill ambassador
Angelina Jolie is just one of the Hollywood stars attending

Let's schmooze again.

It's the last week of January and, like they do every year, more than 2,300 high-powered executives and politicians are descending on snow-bound Davos, high up in the Swiss Alps.

Mix them with a brace of hot inventors, the bosses of aid organisations and social enterprises, and religious leaders, and then add a sprinkling of stars - Bono, Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie and Peter Gabriel among them - and you have the world's ultimate networking event.

It's a chance to rub shoulders with Bill Gates and Michael Dell, talk to Sir Richard Branson and Intel boss Craig Barrett, track down the founders of Google and the boss of Coca Cola, and listen to Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan and Germany's new Chancellor, Angela Merkel.

The Davos congress hall has all the charm of a nuclear bunker (which its lower basements are).

It is also surrounded by barbed wire, more than 5,500 heavily armed soldiers and police officers, and numerous checkpoints.

But despite this, the throngs of millionaires pack happily into its 1970s interior to talk and listen.

At the last count, the organisers had scheduled 243 official events for the four-and-a-half days of Davos. At times, eight or nine sessions are running in parallel.

Back to business

Last year, the agenda was heavy with the world's problems and calls for corporate social responsibility.

Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Thabo Mbeki, Tony Blair, Bono and Olusegun Obasanjo in Davos 2005
Where business meets stars meets politicians

It went down well with the public and stars like anti-poverty campaigner and rock singer Bono, who praised Davos and its participants.

But some business people were grumbling, bemoaning a lack of hard business issues on the menu.

The organisers have listened to the people who foot the bill for this annual Alpine extravaganza.

Topping the agenda is a series of workshops tailored for chief executives.

They will explore how to steer their companies past global trade disruptions, and the challenges of the digital age.

Some of the regular big Davos themes are close to the heart of business anyway: economic globalisation, the emergence of India and China, and the price of oil.

And with nearly 30 trade ministers in town, there will be attempts to restart the global trade talks that collapsed last December in Hong Kong.

Big political and ethical issues have not been forgotten, though.

The conference programme could double-up as a bullet point list of global woes: Aids, nationalism, human rights, terrorism, environmental problems, and collapsing trust in politicians and public institutions.

The need to act is huge.

The world is investing less than half the effort needed to meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, according to a survey commissioned by the forum.

Collecting business cards

Participants may debate the world's troubles, but they are unlikely to solve them.

Worker fixes World Economic Forum logo
2,340 people from 89 countries descend on Davos

For chief executives, it is an opportunity to explore the world their companies operate in - and some will offer help and advice.

Entrepreneurs welcome the chance to network and collect business cards.

The bosses of aid organisations hope for pledges of support, and to exert moral pressure on firms that fail to meet their standards.

Politicians, meanwhile, can negotiate in private or rope business in to help public causes.

Still, the organisers are convinced the forum can deliver something. They urge world leaders to seize the "creative imperative" and "learn how to unleash our creative potential to tackle the world's problems".

Critics of globalisation, though, deride the Davos meeting either as a useless talking shop or an all-powerful cabal to exploit the world's poorest nations.

Much rubbish is said at the Social Forum, and it is just as guilty of giving sway to special interests and monied people.
Bob Macdonald, London

They may hate Davos and all it stands for, but there will be few demonstrations in Switzerland.

Instead, protesters focus their energy on two rival meetings of the World Social Forum, in the capitals of Mali and Venezuela.

Party town

Davos would not be Davos without its lighter moments.

Some are provided in official sessions: Are out-of-body experiences for real? How do famous cartoonists see the world?

And if lust, gluttony, avarice, sloth, wrath, envy and pride can't explain what's happening today, the organisers of one session ask, what is the eighth deadly sin of the modern age?

Some observers may look for the answer at the many parties sweeping Davos.

The receptions and "night caps" are numerous, and not all participants will have the self-discipline required to enable them to turn up in time for the next morning's sessions.

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