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DAVOS, Switzerland – The World Economic Forum’s annual conclave in the Swiss Alps is the biggest hub of wealth and political power on the global calendar, but this year the balance is shifting.
Every January, forum organizers have made a habit of announcing another record slate of national leaders, world officials and royalty heading to the exclusive gathering.
The WEF is said to attract even the most skeptical of globalization: from US President Donald Trump to former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and climate activist Greta Thunberg.
While 52 heads of state are heading to Davos this year, top leaders are missing. US President Joe Biden and his Chinese and Russian counterparts Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin all miss it.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has promised to make the planet even greater, is also skipping the talkfest, along with new British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and re-elected Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Instead, it’s a European guest list: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is the sole leader of a G7 country, sharing the headliner with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, another German.
Even within the European royal ranks, the forum this year attracts figures like Queen Maxima of the Netherlands – a UN envoy for financial inclusion – rather than environmental activists such as King Charles and Prince William .
Some of the biggest tech companies are cutting their stake amid rounds of mass layoffs.
And the party’s biggest hosts in town – the Russian oligarchs – remain driven out by sanctions imposed since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has unrivaled star power among the Davos crowd – but even a video appearance from him this year will be considered below average, given how many he’s making now.
It’s the C-Suite, you idiot!
With the global political elite mostly absent, the WEF chooses this year to focus on increasing the number of CEOs.
Of the 2,700 attendees at the official WEF sessions, “we are likely to surpass the former 2020 record of 600 global CEOs – including 1,500 at the C-suite level in total,” the head of digital and marketing said. of the WEF, George Schmitt, who added that 80 of the CEOs are newbies at Davos.
Those who claim Davos is dead have not yet been right, but the WEF’s criticism has now spread beyond the activist world which has long denigrated the juxtaposition of private jet opulence with signs about global poverty .
The U.S. delegation includes cabinet members such as climate envoy John Kerry, who will be camping in Davos for most of the week, but others like Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen are missing out.
It’s not that Yellen has better things to do at home: she’s embarking on an 11-day trip with stops in Senegal, Zambia and South Africa, with no time for Davos.
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Beatrice Fihn, who campaigns for the elimination of nuclear weapons, said she “really forgot that Davos was still going on”.
“The format seems a bit dated now. Private jets and oligarch parties are out of step with modern business [business] life,” said Scott Colvin, a Davos veteran who is now director of public affairs at Aviva. “Events around the COP [the U.N.’s annual climate summit] now feel more important, given their focus on a specific global political goal,” he added.
The WEF is a victim of its own success and stuck in a demographic bind.
The forum’s operating model requires that it provide a forum for the most powerful and influential people in the world.
In 2020, Bloomberg calculated that 119 billionaires had joined the party, with a combined net worth of over $500 billion.
The WEF’s efforts to round up the uber elite are a stark annual reminder that they don’t look like the rest of us.
The best ratio of female attendees in the WEF’s 52-year history of in-person gatherings was 24%, in 2020.
Despite years of exhortations and urgings for members to bring in more female colleagues, the number often hovers between 18 and 20 percent. A WEF spokesperson said 42% of speakers this year will be women.
The WEF aims for global reach – but often lands in the mid-Atlantic instead.
This year, Europe provides the most political leaders, while the US business delegation will once again overwhelmingly outweigh the rest. The 700 Americans attending this year outnumber the Chinese delegation by about 20 to 1.