The World Economic Forum’s annual event for 2016 starts today in Davos, Switzerland. While the topics appear well chosen and at a glance the speakers well matched to the issues, some criticise the event for being an elitist get-together that excludes some of the very people at the heart of some discussions.
This year’s topics
Key themes for 2016 are: how to cope with the challenges of rising automation – dubbed the forth industrial revolution, how to deal with terrorism and migration, financial market turmoil, cybercrime and data protection, Europe, climate change, and economic inequality. Last year’s topics were similar. Terrorism, global economic concerns, climate change and inequality were all on last year’s agenda.
Stephen Kelly the CEO of the FTSE 100 software company Sage, is boycotting the event. In an interview with the Business Insider, he points out that while two thirds of jobs in the developed world are created by SMEs, they are under-represented at the forum with a presence close to zero. “In reality, Davos is not representative of the real world and I am calling them out.” he told the Business Insider, adding “On top of that, female representation at the conference is only 17%. So really, Davos is just full of old men from big business.”
Women heavily under represented
The Guardian newspaper published a piece entitled: “Davos: how can an event that’s 82% male solve the digital gender divide?“. Article author Professor Henrietta Moore writes, that in some quarters Davos has become a byword for a champagne-soaked chums club of the global financial elite, personified by the “Davos man”. In 2015 the event listed over four men for every woman. Despite the introduction of a quota of one female speaker for every four men, the female percentage has only grown only 1% this year, from 17% to 18%. Professor Moore writes “we might well ask what a gathering that is so grossly gender-unbalanced is likely to do to close the worrying digital divide between the sexes globally”, one of the topics of discussion at this year’s event.
Dominated by a handful of countries
The forum doesn’t score very well on global diversity either. An infographic on the forum’s website shows the dominance of the US, UK and Switzerland at the 2015 event. Attendees from these three countries together made up 54% of the 2,500 total – 32% were from the US and 11% from each of the UK and Switzerland.
An elite discuss inequality
One of the issues on the agenda again this year is growing inequality. Every year Oxfam publishes a pre-Davos report that show the number of rich people that collectively own as much as the poorest 50% of the world’s population. This year the report says the combined wealth of only 62 people adds up to this figure. This tiny group represents one 120 billionth of the population, a minuscule slice of even the richest 1%.
The trend since 2010 has been towards ever greater wealth concentration. In 2010, a jumbo jet would have been required to contain the 388 owning half the world. Since then the fat cat count has steadily declined to the point where they’d now all fit into a school bus. While no aggregate global wealth percentage has been calculated for the forum’s attendees, it is unlikely they represent all economic strata of global society. In 2011, Andrew Ross Sorkin put the cost of attendance at US$ 71,000.
Someone at Davos could suggest the mega wealthy put some of their oversized share of world wealth into education focused on retraining those who will lose their jobs to robots. This could make a small dent in inequality, help to close the digital gender divide, and lead more women to Davos.