By Tim Weber
Business Editor, BBC News website, in Davos
The rise of China and India, stalled trade talks and worries over high energy prices are high on the agenda as the World Economic Forum (WEF) gets under way.
Davos is a blur of networking and lobbying
But it's not the heavy topics that make Davos special.
The Belvedere hotel in Davos is buzzing.
Hundreds of people with excited faces crowd into a huge room, incessantly chatting, forming small clusters here and there, and constantly moving around.
Most are complete strangers, but have one thing in common: a white badge the size of a credit card.
It's what made them come from all over the world to this bitterly cold and snow-bound valley high in the Swiss Alps.
The badge is their passport to the World Economic Forum, and they are determined to make good use of it.
Networking is the name of the game, or schmoozing, as some would call it.
You're here, you must be interesting
Business cards change hand at a rapid clip; old friends embrace; people move around with their eyes set chest-high where those white badges dangle, displaying name and affiliation of each participant.
It's a diverse bunch of people, but they have one thing in common, says one of the participants: "The great thing about Davos is this assumption that you must be interesting, just because you are here."
And in most cases the assumption is right.
Take Markus Brehler, the founder of Enocean.
His cutting-edge tech firm has developed ultra-low power sensors and switches that get their energy from unlikely sources like vibration and temperature. It's environmentally friendly and does away with miles of cabling.
It's his first time in Davos and he is keen to meet potential business contacts.
"But the best thing is the opportunity to take your mind away from running a company for a few days and learn new stuff," he says.
Take Matthieu Ricard, a molecular geneticist by training, now co-director of the Buddhist Shechen monastery in Nepal.
Celebrities, entrepreneurs and world leaders are all attending
Dressed in purple and orange robes, he is here to discuss what makes people happy.
"We work so hard to improve ourselves, but our outer conditions contribute to just 15% of our well-being," he says. "I want to talk about what makes out the rest of our happiness."
And of course he wants to network as well, in the hope of finding help for the 16 clinics his monastery runs in Nepal and Tibet , and for his schools in the desperately poor districts high up in the Himalayas.
Njabulo Ndebele is the vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, and looking forward to a meeting with university presidents from around the world.
Wang Jianmao is a professor at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and eager "to promote China, to make sure that it is treated as an equal member of the international community".
A man with a mission
The Davos agenda is packed. Too packed for many.
Amory Lovins runs the Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmental research lab.
He pulls out two large pieces of paper, tightly printed in small font to list the talks he has to give, sessions he hopes to attend, and the numerous events he would really love to go to but is unlikely to be able to squeeze in.
He dives into his backpack, pulls out a bowl and bangs it hard with a metal stick without making a dent.
"I'll give a speech to a meeting of the chief executives of all the world's top car makers this week," he says. "I'll show them this new light-weight carbon fibre thermo plastic composite material", which is lighter than steel or aluminium, just as tough and will do wonders for fuel efficiency.
Davos is full of people like that, and the best place to make connections and your case.
Serene on the outside, Davos is a hotbed of activity
"You would never be able to meet that many interesting people in one place in normal life," says Mack Gill.
The 36-year old runs the rapidly growing offshore operation of financial software giant Sungard in India.
It's his first time in Davos, and he confesses to being "really excited" about the five days that lie ahead.
But it's not all talk.
Once again the forum has attracted many of the world's most influential trade ministers.
Nearly 30 of them are in town, and as in previous years they are meeting on the sidelines of the event to hammer out a framework that could restart the global trade round.
The fact that they do so surrounded by top executives of the world's largest multinational companies will fan the suspicion of critics of the world's trade regime.
China is at the top of the agenda
Anti-poverty group Actionaid has just released a report to coincide with the WEF start, accusing corporate lobbyists of having "an undue influence on the current global trade talks".
And in a way Davos is indeed the perfect place to lobby, whether for a good cause or your country.
India is making Davos the focus of its new "India everywhere" campaign, with a huge delegation of top government officials and business leaders.
Others are betting on the powers of jazz.
The state of Louisiana has invited to a "Bring back New Orleans" party, hoping to persuade investors to return to the hurricane-battered region.
Many of the people that Louisiana needs to persuade will be among the white badge holders in Davos.