Klaus Schwab, who founded the World Economic Forum (WEF), has said his childhood during World War II inspired him to build an organisation that would make the world a better place.
His foundation, which hosts many of the world’s most powerful, famous and wealthy people at its annual meeting in the Swiss ski resort of Davos, has clearly made an impact.
But questions have grown about whether the organisation is meeting its declared goal of “improving the state of the world”, with resentment rising against the pro-business Davos agenda, and voters turning instead to populist leaders.
One persistent criticism is that WEF meetings, including this week’s main annual gathering in Davos, have simply created a safe space for the corporate world to lobby governments without oversight.
Schwab was not available for an interview with AFP but the WEF’s managing director, Adrian Monck, said in an email that the organisation “subscribes to the highest standards of governance”.
Schwab, born in Ravensburg, Germany, in 1938, was a little-known business professor at the University of Geneva when in 1971 he founded the WEF’s precursor, the European Management Forum.
He later broadened the conclave by inviting US business leaders, assembling a prestigious Rolodex as he turned the gathering into a showcase for networking and exchange of ideas.
In a 2018 book, two Stockholm University professors chronicled the WEF’s evolution, as over time politicians joined the business executives in Davos to give the forum the air of a United Nations, with a few celebrities thrown in.
“Against the backdrop of what is perceived to be malfunctioning global governance institutions and stalled international policymaking, the WEF presents itself as offering an alternative,” Christina Garsten and Adrienne Sorbom write in “Discreet Power: How the World Economic Forum Shapes Market Agendas”.
Over the years, success has bred success for the WEF as many of the world’s movers and shakers vie to rub shoulders in the Swiss Alps at panel discussions and apres-ski socialising. Newer regional meetings have joined the Davos calendar.
The WEF’s “fragile authority” relies on proving “that if you want to be part of the global nobility, then you have to be here,” Sorbom told AFP.
She said the organisation appears to offer something lacking in other international bodies: a venue where the heads of business and government can meet “and possibly come up with some good ideas”.
But it has “troublesome aspects”, she added.
With dozens of heads of state and government coming to Davos each year, the WEF can be seen as a body “without a legal mandate to influence global governance yet with an ambition to do so”, Garsten and Sorbom write.
Oliver Classen of the Swiss NGO Public Eye, which has spearheaded protests and other campaigns to counter the Davos meeting, said the WEF has always been “fully dependent” on the 1,000 companies that support the foundation.
Membership to the Forum ranges from the equivalent of $60,000 (53,000 euros) to $600,000, fees that allow company representatives to attend Davos and other meetings throughout the year.
“Schwab seems to have a firm belief that making people talk to each other is an objective that justifies pretty much everything,” Classen said.
“What he does not realise is that… when the large majority of those people have commercial interests then it is about deal-striking and nothing else.”
Monck, however, said that for the WEF, “multi-stakeholder engagement… means respecting the opinions and interests of others”.
– Only Bono is safe –
The Davos meeting reportedly faced an existential threat in the early 2000s after sustained protests stretched the patience of the local community.
In response, Schwab opened the meeting to more civil society groups while widening media access to an event that had previously been mostly held behind closed doors.
That move was not “voluntary”, said Christian Dorer, the editor-in-chief of Swiss media group Blick, who recently had rare access to Schwab for a profile.
Schwab “realised he had to, otherwise the Forum would be dead,” Dorer told AFP, also saying that the WEF founder had changed over the years.
“He was really only attached to the business world, and now he is much more open.”
Sorbom said her research showed an organisation that tolerated some dissent, up to a point.
“You can voice criticism, but if you are too critical, then you are out, unless you are Bono,” she said.
Monck told AFP that if the principle of multi-stakeholder engagement is “not one you can sign up to, then the Forum is not the best platform for your engagement”.
UK travel giant Thomas Cook set to collapse: report
Thomas Cook's 178-year existence was reported to be coming to an end on Monday after the British travel firm struggled to find private investment to keep it afloat, potentially affecting thousands of holidaymakers.
The operator has said it needs £200 million ($250 million) or else it will face administration, which could affect 600,000 holidaymakers and require Britain's largest peacetime repatriation.
A source close to the negotiations told AFP that the company had failed to find the cash from private investors and would collapse unless the government intervened.
But ministers are unlikely to step in due to worries about the pioneering operator's longer-term viability, the Times reported, leaving it on the brink.
‘We are the people’: Watch Billy Porter get a standing ovation for his passionate speech at the Emmys
In a powerful and passionate speech accepting his Emmy, "Pose" actor Billy Porter showered the audience with love and proudly reminded all of their right to belong and be loved.
"Oh, my God. God bless you all! The category is love, y'all, love!" Porter exclaimed.
The epic FX show "Pose" depicts Black and Latinos in the LGBTQ ballroom culture of New York City in the 1980s in the first season and the early 1990s in the second season.
"I am so overwhelmed and so overjoyed to have lived long enough to see this day," he said. "James Baldwin wrote, 'It took many years of vomiting up the filth I was taught about myself and half-believed, before I was able to walk on the earth as though I had a right to be here.' I have the right. You have the right. We all have the right."
Paris show of King Tutankhamun artifacts set new record with 1.42 million visitors
A blockbuster Tutankhamun show set a new all-time French record Sunday, with 1.42 million visitors flocking to see the exhibition in Paris, the organisers said.
The turnout beat the previous record set by another Tutankhamun show billed as the "exhibition of the century" in 1967, when 1.24 million queued to see "Tutankhamun and His Times" at the Petit Palais.
"Tutankhamun: Treasures of the Golden Pharaoh" -- which has been described as a "once in a generation" show -- will open in London in November.
The last time a show of comparable size about the boy king opened there in 1972 it sparked "Tutmania", with 1.6 million people thronging the British Museum.