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WEF 2014: Assessment
During the last couple of years, every nation has either gone through a crisis or has felt the heat in one way or the other. Several predictions have highlighted that the world is recovering gradually from the crisis. In the same vein was held this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) summit at Davos, Switzerland, with the theme, “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business”.
The WEF summit has now obtained a unique place in the yearly calendar of top CEOs, Chairpersons, political leaders, and other notable personalities from various spheres of life – entertainment to religion, sports to medicine, you name it, the WEF has it. Typically, the annual meeting mainly takes up key global concerns – the usual suspects being the economic crisis, global conflicts, poverty, environmental issues et cetera. But given the importance that the event seems to have gained in recent times, the forum has become the centrepoint to showcase a nation’s ideologies, to gain political mileage through grandstanding or brinksmanship, or even to market one’s economy to potential investors.
The recent summit had emerging economies in full force battling down all negative predictions and advertising their economic strengths. In fact, emerging nations were seen attempting to market themselves more than any multinational company, in order to rebuild and maintain confidence among global investors. For instance, on one hand, South Africa displayed one giant poster with the tagline, “South Africa: inspiring new ways.” On the other hand, India marketed itself by saying that they would be “The world’s largest middle class consumer market by 2030.” Similarly, Azerbaijan promoted itself by writing its virtues on the sides of the buses that flitted around Davos. Korea hosted a government-sponsored party called “Korea Night.”
At the same time, the moment was not lost for political grandstanding. China and Japan presented their geographical conflicts through a war of words. Japan’s PM, Shinzo Abe, compared the current sour relations between his government and the People’s Republic of China with the Anglo-German tension in the run up to the outbreak of war in 1914. He warned China to restrain their “Military expansion in Asia.” China was not silent in this episode. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi retorted that the island dispute was “created by the Japanese side.” Moreover, he added, no one could deny the fact that APAC region had any which way become “The most militarised region in the world” over the years.
Apart from these exhibitions, there were several unpretentious, yet quite repetitive issues, that were discussed in the event. Al Gore, ‘the’ American politician and philanthropist, and Nick Stern, a British economist, highlighted the age-old concern on global warming. The forum overall could not appropriate finalistic statements on issues like unemployment. And of course, the oft-discussed debate between how modernisation is reducing employment opportunities, got discussed again; and surprisingly, had a good number of supporters. TK Kurien, CEO of Wipro, mentioned, “With automation, you’re going to find a whole bunch of people — a whole section of society — out of work. Long-term, I worry about the future of some countries and some societies, primarily because of this pressure.” On other fronts, a poll by WEF also highlighted that income equality is seen as becoming a major constraint to overall global growth.
To a considerable extent, the World Economic Forum continues to be an interesting exercise without any specific agenda. The one advantage it has is the fact that it provides a neutral platform for even warring parties to communicate and collaborate with each other. Truly, if heads of states could interact with each other in the normal course – the way they do at WEF – almost all problems could be ended over cultured discussions. But that’s easy to preach, hard to digest and harder to practice.