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Different faces of the World Economic Forum

As rich and powerful gather in Davos to talk money, the world's 3.5 billion poorest people face uncertain future.
Last modified: 21 Jan 2014 23:43

I've missed Davos, you might say avoided it, for years. This is my first trip. As a younger journalist I wasn't terribly interested in finance and the global economy. Until 2008, it didn't much matter to most of us ordinary folks anyway.

Now, a little wiser - you might say, cynical - I do find the way things are done in these rarified surroundings quite interesting. I'd be in the wrong game these days if I didn't.

Let's face it, much of the world is in a fair old mess. Wars are being fought, economies are in decline, people are on the move in their masses, escaping things, searching for things. Not much is transparent, honesty is at a premium, what you see is often not what you get. There are fewer jobs, less prosperity to go around, water's short, the weather's out of control.

The future for many has never looked less certain.

In the end, so much of it comes down to money – who wants it and how to get it - and a lot of those who've actually got it come here, to Davos, each year.

Making world a better place

The public face of the World Economic Forum is about making the world a better place, and I've no doubt plenty of that does go on. I've equally little doubt that, in private, deals are done with power handshakes behind closed doors that would make your skin crawl. After all, nobody got rich just by hanging around. Fewer still got there by helping others.

Perhaps it's not surprising, under these circumstances, that this most unusual of economic summits opened with a message delivered on behalf of Pope Francis. He told the delegates to fight inequality, hunger and refugee crises around the world. He said the world needs "a renewed, profound and broadened sense of responsibility on the part of all".

By "all", I think he meant the people in the room, the great and the good, the rich, the even richer and the all-powerful.

On Monday, Oxfam released a stunning statistic: 85 of the world's richest individuals now account for the same amount of wealth as the world's 3.5 billion poorest people. Yes, BILLION. That's half the global population.

Many of those 85 individuals are here in Davos. They were the intended recipients of the papal plea. I'm told it got the attention of the room, which is great. Maybe it'll make them think. Behind those closed doors, however, I'm not convinced.

So, anyway, I wanted to come to Davos, and here I am. First impressions? It's snowy, and clinical, expensive and Swiss. Much as I expected, really. But that frisson in the Alpine air is quite palpable. It's just a tiny bit thrilling. It's called proximity to power and money.