Page last updated at 00:01 GMT, Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Q&A: World Economic Forum - Davos 2010

For the 40th time, the World Economic Forum (WEF) is holding its annual meeting.

Some of the world's top business leaders and politicians are coming to the Swiss mountain resort Davos for the five-day event, which lasts from Wednesday to Sunday. The event started in 1971, when it was known as the European Management Symposium.

Why is Davos so popular?

WEF exhibition
The WEF's roots are in a management symposium held in 1971

You may think it's the skiing that attracts some of the world's most powerful people to come to the Swiss mountains (although it probably helps).

More importantly, there are hundreds of sessions and workshops covering the whole range from corporate risk management and the fight against poverty to how social media are changing society.

However, the real reason for making the trek up a secluded valley in the Swiss Alps is the chance for some serious networking with more than 2,500 of the world's movers and shakers.

It's a chance to compare notes with the key people in your industry, get a feel for the geo-political mood and recharge your brain with new ideas and information.

Sounds great, can I come?

Here's the rub, the event is invitation only. Companies, of course, pay for their WEF membership, which gives them the right to send their chief executive or key managers.

Davos valley
It's not the snow that brings 2,500 people to Davos

Joining them are top politicians - presidents, heads of government and ministers - from around the world. The forum also invites a sprinkling of social entrepreneurs (who work for good causes without wanting to make a big profit), technology pioneers, and activists from trade unions and organisations like Amnesty International or Oxfam. There are also a few artists, religious leaders, and many journalists from around the world.

About 90 countries will be represented in Davos, and while it lives up to its reputation as a club of capitalists, there are plenty of critical voices in town that get a prominent place on the agenda.

What are they talking about?

Davos is always a good barometer of what's happening in the world. Two years ago Davos gave us a good indicator that the financial crisis could get much worse than many anticipated.

Last year participants were in a dark mood, as the global financial system teetered on the brink and global economic growth collapsed.

This year the theme is "Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild". If you believe the conference agenda, the world is over the worst of the financial crisis, and now it's time to think about reforms - of how companies are run, how financial industries are regulated, and how global problems can be tackled.

All I can remember about Davos are pictures of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt... will they come again?

Angelina Jolie in Davos
Angelina Jolie promoted the UNHCR when she came to Davos

Don't say that to the organisers. A few years ago, showbiz stars like Angelina Jolie, Claudia Schiffer and Sharon Stone stole most of the headlines. Although they came to Davos to support good causes, their presence also reflected the exuberance of the economic bubble.

As economic times have become harder, fewer celebrities have been invited to Davos. This year pianist Lang Lang, writers Margaret Atwood and Paulo Coelho and Hollywood director James Cameron are among the ranks of "cultural leaders".

The real draw of Davos, however, are participants like French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Google chief executive Eric Schmidt. Name any top company in the world - both from industrialised and developing economies, and chances are that it will be represented here.

How do they manage to attract all these people?

The forum is the brainchild of Professor Klaus Schwab.

In 1971 he invited European chief executives to Davos to discuss business strategy.

Over the years the event widened its agenda and attracted ever more prominent guests, which in turn made it interesting for yet more big names to come.

The forum is now run as a not-for-profit member-based organisation.

The paying members are about 1,000 big companies, while non-business participants attend meetings for free.

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