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Last Updated: Sunday, 28 January 2007, 17:58 GMT
Davos misses out on the big bang
By Tim Weber
Business editor, BBC News website, Davos

After four-and-a-half days of intense thinking, talking, debating, schmoozing, networking, deal-making and partying, Davos men and women will look back and ask themselves: What kind of a World Economic Forum did we have this year?

Security guards outside the main entrance to the WEF conference centrum
After a green start, Davos saw heavy snowfalls

It was certainly less glitzy, less of a circus, with Hollywood stars kept firmly at bay.

Not that this was a bad thing.

"The problem with stars is that they tend to hijack the agenda," the boss of a company with a market value of $30bn tells me.

It was a deliberate move by the organisers, and no doubt many chief executives breathed a sigh of relief - although some may have regretted not having the opportunity to crowd around Angelina Jolie.

Flat Davos?

But it also was a Davos without surprises.

"The big bang was missing," says Niraj Bajaj, managing director of India steel and insurance services group Mukand.

There were no surprise guests making grand entrances on Saturday afternoon to hold keynote speeches (like US Vice President Dick Cheney did two years ago).

Infosys chief executive Nandan Nilekani
Infosys boss Nandan Nilekani rushed from meeting to meeting

Unlike last year there were no big announcements, launches of new projects or unveilings of huge grants for good causes - unless you want to count the creation of the Climate Disclosure Standards Board, which will develop a framework for climate risk-related reporting by corporations.

Even rock star and anti-poverty campaigner Bono did not give a single news conference.

But was this year's Davos really "flat", as some participants grumbled?

Certainly, the annual meeting's farewell soiree on Saturday night quickly ran out of steam and corporate heavyweights; somebody should have told the Malaysian sponsors that a band playing 1970s cover versions doesn't cut it with the Davos crowd. Earth, Wind and Fire anyone?

How green is your company?

But then Davos probably can and should do without these trimmings.

After all, the World Economic Forum is about "improving the state of the world," as its motto proclaims.

And there were plenty of important issues to discuss, both corporate and global.

Last year the Davos crowd focused on the plight of Africa.

Tony Blair and Bono in front of a screen showing Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Africa loomed large on the agenda for Bono and Tony Blair

Some of the initiatives announced back then are already bearing fruit, with millions of lives saved, not least courtesy of Bill Gates' billions.

This year green issues firmly took centre stage, and corporate bosses did not complain that their agenda had been hijacked.

In small ways they tried to do their bit: 67% of the carbon footprint generated by the corporate travel to Davos will be offset, with commitments of more than $65,000.

But they tackled the big picture as well. Global warming is now discussed at chief executive level; big US companies have started lobbying their own government, and across the world they pledge to take a long hard look at how they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Cynics will doubt the bosses' earnest assurances. After all, plenty of them played down for years what former US Vice President Al Gore called "the inconvenient truth" of global warming.

It will take plenty of monitoring to ensure that all the green promises will be kept.

The malnutrition dinner

Africa and global health issues were not forgotten, and companies, aid organisations and social entrepreneurs compared notes on what does and doesn't work.

Microsoft boss Bill Gates
Microsoft boss Bill Gates is a Davos regular

But sometimes the best Davos intentions jar with the setting. Was it really necessary to hold a three-course dinner to discuss malnutrition? Empty rice bowls were probably not on the menu.

And not all events were necessarily in the right order. The closing session on Sunday heard numerous stories of human suffering and dignity.

"This was the best session of the week," says Mukand's Niraj Bajaj, "it should have been the opening session."

"This forum is about improving the state of the world. The leaders of the world should have listened to this session, and at the end of the week discussed what to do next," says Mr Bajaj.

The leaders of non-governmental campaign groups like Amnesty International were not happy either.

We were a token presence, said one.

Down to business

But then this is a business conference, and the corporate and political leaders executives got down to plenty of that.

"I can do here in three days what it would take two years to set up," says Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme.

Instead of going to sessions he spent most of his time in bilateral meetings.

It was not much different for Infosys boss Nandan Nilekani.

"I had a good week, even though I spent most of the time in meetings," he says.

What works for the Indian IT giant also does the trick for smaller firms.

Last year it was Markus Brehler's first year in Davos. Since then his company, sensor technology firm Enocean, has doubled its turnover.

Once again he has met plenty of potential customers and is "fairly confident of getting new deals".

It's been a hectic, intense week, with or without Hollywood stars. Now it's time for participants to go into decompression.


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