If it is a nightmare to reach and hundreds of protestors are blocking the road, you can bet it is the World Economic Forum in Davos. Almost everyone has a horror story about the commute from Zurich — whether it is the endless train changes, the tedious traffic or the chopper not being available because a guy with a bigger bank balance bullied his way into your booking. But, on the bright side, the weather did not play spoilsport. In years past I’ve braved snowstorms and terrible roads, but this year the weather was mild — I guess climate change is real!
The 2,500 delegates, 426 speakers, 147 sessions, 100 billionaires, 500 helicopters hovering over this small Alpine town and Donald Trump en famille made for a heady mix at WEF’s 50th anniversary in 2020. I haven’t been around for 50 years, but in the past five years I’ve been coming, it has always been intensely hectic and fun. I mean, what’s not to like about fondue and free Champagne?
But, more seriously, Tina Brown, the media icon with whom I work, hosts an annual Women of Impact dinner. That’s what brings me here. This year we had the International Monetary Fund head, Kristalina Georgieva, and Iranian activist, Masih Alinejad, speak at dinner. Ivanka Trump showed up; she had worked with Kristalina on women’s economic empowerment when the latter was at the World Bank. Ivanka is tall, skinny and very friendly, but what really struck me was her skin, which is so luminous I was dying to ask her what creams she uses. The only other person whose face I’ve seen look as good is Delhi-based art collector, Shalini Passi. I messaged her later to tell her as much.
Kristalina didn’t just talk of macroeconomic issues, she also spoke about how she awoke to gender discrimination after age 40 and how growing up under communism in her native Bulgaria gave her first-hand experience of its evils. Masih, whose book, The Wind in My Hair, talks about her fight for freedom in Iran, faces death threats. Her brother was arrested in September by the regime. She sang impromptu on stage after she told us that women in Iran do not have the right to sing solo. These are the moments that stay with you long after you leave Davos.
I missed seeing more of my ultimate fashionista friend, Natasha Poonawalla, whose clothes always delight in Davos. She was off in Paris for a fancy LVMH dinner and so was arriving slightly later in the week. That said, those years of spotting extravagant furs and insane boots seem to have passed — everyone is woke to sustainability. Given the downbeat IMF outlook for global economic growth this year, it is probably appropriate to not sport over-the-top fashion.
Davos is all about clichés: be it the business jargon, buzzwords or the types of people who attend (except me, of course!). Tina summed it up best. “It is all about FOMO on black ice,” she said on a panel on Wednesday, explaining how people keep rushing from one thing to another because they don’t want to feel left out. However, given the bread and cheese diet on which I exist here, it is a good thing I walk so much. It is also the best way to bump into people. Was that David Cameron? Was that Will.i.Am? Was that Kamal Nath? When I overheard a middle-aged Indian man gush over how he rode up in an elevator with Deepika Padukone, I was pretty sure his year was made. I guess that’s what Davos is about — it may not solve big world problems, but it does give attendees ample anecdotes to take back home.
This fortnightly column tracks the indulgent pursuits of the one-percenters.