Dalian residents know that every two years a key international event comes to town; the Davos forum.
The city prepares for Davos months before the conference. Hundreds of volunteers are recruited to play host to the domestic and international leaders who visit Dalian. Thousands of flowerpots adorn the main avenues and public security is bolstered to guarantee the safety of citizens and attendees during this important event.
But, what is it about Davos that makes it the event of the year? We take a look at exactly what Davos is and why it is important, to China and to the world.
WHAT IS DAVOS?
The Davos forum is comprised of a series of meetings organized by The World Economic Forum (WEF) in which global leaders converge to discuss key global issues. It was dubbed the WEF’s “Davos forum” because it originated in Davos, Switzerland.
Currently, the Davos forum is hosted twice a year:
Winter Davos: Every January in Switzerland at the annual meeting of the WEF
Summer Davos: Every September during the Davos Annual Meeting of New Champions alternating between Dalian and Tianjin.
The Annual Meeting of the New Champions, the “Summer Davos”, is the foremost global business gathering in Asia. Introduced in 2007 in close collaboration with the People’s Republic of China and with the personal support of Premier Wen Jiabao.
WHAT IS THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM?
The WEF is an independent organization committed to improving the state of the world by engaging international business, political, academic and other leaders of society to coordinate global, regional and industry agendas.
The WEF was first conceived in 1971 when a group of European business leaders met under the patronage of the European Commission and European industrial associations. Professor Klaus Sc hwab of the University of Geneva chaired the first meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Professor Schwab’s vision for what would become a platform for resolving economic and international conflicts grew steadily and the WEF’s Davos meeting expanded its focus from management to economic and social issues. In 1974 political leaders were invited for the first time to Davos.
The WEF is now also responsible for organizing other important global meetings such as Economic Summits, Summits on the Global Agenda, and World Economic Forums.
HOW THE DAVOS FORUM CAME TO CHINA
As the economy of the eastern hemisphere countries grew and issues based on such growth started to make international headlines, it became clear that the Davos forum needed to expand horizons.
China’s rapid buildup of technology, investment in human capital and a shift of labor from low to high productivity sectors have enabled the country to go from zero to double-digit economic growth in the past 20 years. These remarkable economic conditions made it the perfect candidate to host Davos in the eastern hemisphere. In February of 2006, Zhang Xiaoqiang, Vice Director of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s top planning body, signed an agreement with Klaus Schwab, WEF’s founder, to hold the late summer version of Davos in China.
Several cities in China showed interest in hosting the forum and presented their proposals to the WEF’s Beijing office where Prof. Schwab’s team evaluated all proposals to assess the suitability of each potential host city. Selection criteria included the standards of venues, hotels, transportation and services. They shortlisted the potential host cities and carried out site visits.
Dalian and Tianjin were chosen not only based on required standards, but also based on the professionalism and enthusiasm of the cities’ representatives.
WHAT IS DISCUSSED AT SUMMER DAVOS?
Every conference focuses on a key theme that addresses pressing global issues. The theme this year is Mastering Quality Growth and will be supported by activities divided into four main pillars:
Pursuing New Frontiers of Growth
Embracing Disruptive Innovation
Shaping New Industry Models and Innovation
Sustaining a Creative and Entrepreneurial Culture
The discussions around these four pillars and the initiatives that result from them are entrusted to the Davos attendees who are grouped in different “communities” depending on their expertise and personal interests. To learn more about the WEF’s communities visit www.weforum.org/communities
Main speakers will include Premier Wen Jiabao, WEF’s Founder Klaus Schwab, China’s Sinopec Group Chairman Fu Chengyu, Aetna’s Chairman Mark Bertolini and Mitsubishi’s Chairman of the Board Yorihiko Kojima.
WHO COMES TO DAVOS?
One of the reasons why Davos is such an internationally renowned conference is because its attendees are the most senior executives of the world’s largest companies and powerful political leaders.
This year’s forum is expecting more than 1,500 participants from 80 countries including government officials, scholars and business leaders. A good number of them make a point to not miss Davos and participate every year.
So, why is DAVOS so attractive to such global leaders?
They say they take advantage of their twice-a-year physical proximity to meet in person with many of the key players in the world’s economy, to discuss both business and how to make the world a better place.
We interviewed some of the regular participants of Davos and asked them to provide their opinion on the forum.
JIMMY WALES – Wikipedia Founder. Awarded by the WEF as Young Global Leader.
FD: You’ve participated in a number of Davos meetings. Has that influenced you in any way as a professional and as a person?
JW: I have found my participation in Davos meetings to have been a real high point of my career and very helpful to me in a number of ways. I am particularly fond of the Young Global Leaders group, where I have made many very interesting and good friends all around the world.
FD: Do you think Davos attendees can truly make a difference?
JW: I think so, yes. I think the results of Davos are easy to see and difficult to measure - not because they are small, but because they are so large. The ability of like-minded people who are in a position to make the world a better place to get together and get to know each other so that they can take action to make the world a better place is incredibly powerful.
FD: At Davos you have guided many discussions such as those of the WEF’s Young Global Leaders community. What would be your advice to this year’s Young Global Leaders? How can they approach the discussions so that the meeting’s outcome can be transformed into practical action items?
JW: Interestingly enough, I think that the structured discussions - even ones that I have led (for better or worse ha ha!) are not the important part of the meeting. You’ll often learn a lot from these discussions, and have the chance to meet and talk to genuine experts. But then, also really important discussions happen after the meetings - over dinner, at the cocktail meetings, etc.
My advice is get to know people, and follow up afterwards with them. Don’t stick to your own field or industry. Don’t look for clients or partners. Not right now. Just meet some really great people and in a year’s time, amazing ideas will have bloomed.
FD: After visiting Dalian a number of times, what is your impression of the city and its people?
JW: Dalian is a beautiful city and there’s an amazing crowd of international people living and working in Dalian. Having attended a WEF meeting in Tianjin, I can say that in my opinion, Dalian is 100 times better! Be sure not to miss the closing celebration - at least the last time I was in Dalian, it was amazing.
YOSHITO HORI - Dean, GLOBIS UNIVERSITY, Managing Partner, GLOBIS CAPITAL PARTNERS. Awarded by the WEF as New Asian Leader.
FD: What was your motivation to participate in the WEF’s Davos meetings?
YH: I have three reasons and anticipations. The first, to get fresh ideas, knowledge and wisdom from the world-top-class leaders and to get myself inspired and stimulated. The second, to establish wonderful friendships with those leaders and specialists from a variety of fields and build a global-scale human network. The third is to contribute to the world’s prosperity and peace by joining discussions and giving my opinion as a Japanese entrepreneur. I think that the Davos meeting satisfies me in terms of all the three expectations and we reaped a rich harvest from all activities.
FD: As an entrepreneur, you say that “Anyone with a winning idea just needs to know where to look”. In your opinion, does Davos provide attendees with a good sense of where to look?
YH: I think that Davos works very effectively as the place where the world visionary leaders are brought together spontaneously. We know that fresh ideas, constructive relationships and powerful impulses will be created among and from the melting pot of those inspirational people. This is very important characteristic that makes Davos unique and different.
This is completely the same as GLOBIS MBA School. I think that we have been preparing the PLACE where ambitious people get together, learn cooperatively and motivate with each other. They do not join us for self-aggrandizing purposes, but for creating positive changes in society. That’s why GLOBIS puts particular emphasis on the development of its students’ KOKOROZASHI’ which means a personal mission in Japanese language and we think that it is the very core of a leader’s strength. At GLOBIS, students are challenged to think deeply about their own personal mission in life and to apply their passion to create and innovate. That makes GLOBIS more than a business school.
In the same sense, I believe that Davos is more than a conference.
FD: In your view, what are the key responsibilities and conference take-aways for New Asian Leaders, now that economies are favoring Asia?
YH: I think that it is quite important for every global leader to understand the diversity of people, culture and value of Asia both in the past and in the future. Since it will be the next-generation Asian Leaders that change and develop the world economy in this century, we will have to listen to them carefully and should know what and how they think. Davos Dalian will be the best place for us to give that valuable opportunity.
FD: What would you advise attendees in order for them to create their own of memorable moments of Davos Dalian?
YH: I would like to suggest to them; 1) Meet as many people as possible, 2) Join as many sessions as possible, 3) Take part in as many discussions and Q&As as possible, 4) Enjoy it! I will do so.
RICH STROMBACK – Chairman and CEO, Stromback Ventures. Awarded by the WEF as Technology Pioneer and Young Global Leader.
FD: How would you describe disruptive technologies in simple words?
RC: I’ll cite WikipediAddress: “A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network (over a few years or decades), displacing an earlier technology there. The term is used in business and technology literature to describe
innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in the new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.”
Apple’s iPhone is a perfect example of a disruptive technology. The iPhone has completely changed telecommunications; putting access to that much information in the palm of a hand has empowered people in many unforeseen ways. Apple has transformed the phone from just a communications device to a platform for everything.
FD: Why is this topic one of the four main topics of discussion at the Davos Conference?
RC: Because it’s extremely relevant to everyone. Across the world we are witnessing how disruptive technology is affecting all aspects of our lives. Disruptive technologies such as smartphones coupled with social media have been utilized to topple regimes. Technology and innovation have been the foundation of globalization and the development of emerging markets such as India. Governments, media, business and finance are being affected by disruptive technologies on a scale that we have never witnessed before. I can’t think of a more timely topic than disruptive technology.
FD: Who will benefit from the initiatives that will result from the discussions?
RC: It’s hard to predict what will come from the discussions. The event is only a few days long but the discussions that are initiated and continued during it are influencing the decision makers who shape our lives. The WEF assembles a powerful group of constituents that span the breadth of influence in government, business, technology, finance etc. Because of this, the discussions and transfer of knowledge that occur within the forum have the potential for great impact.
FD: How has your participation at the Davos meetings influenced you as a person and as a professional?
RC: It’s incredible to have access to such an amplitude of leadership; those who are shaping our world. It has given me a global perspective and many great friendships.