Davos, More Optimistic and Less Glamorous, Struggling with 2.0 World

February 4, 2013

This year’s World Economic Forum at Davos was a more sober, but also more optimistic affair than in recent years, which found political leaders preoccupied with the usual matters such as economic growth and environmental sustainability but also struggling to adjust to a world transformed by social media and communications.

That was the consensus offered Friday (Feb. 1) by a panel of Harvard experts assembled for the annual Davos Debrief, an event organized by the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government and hosted by Executive Dean John Haigh, co-director of the center.

“The mood of the meeting was absolutely different from last year,” Felipe Calderon, the former president of Mexico and inaugural Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at the Kennedy School. “It was very pessimistic in 2012 and today it is more positive.”

Calderon noted that despite the improvements in the economic condition, especially among European nations, the benefits of the economic sacrifices are not yet being felt by people in those societies.

“It’s going to take a long time before they trickle down to ordinary people,” he said.

Ricardo Hausmann, professor of the practice of economic development at Harvard Kennedy School and director of the Center for International Development, has been attending the Davos event for two decades. He commented on the increasing diversity of the conference, which has evolved from a meeting of businessmen and policy makers to one also involving academics, artists, scientists and many more.

But he says the increasing diversity and other changes, such as the flattening of hierarchies, are posing touch challenges.

“Both the world and the meeting are in this transition from a 1.0 world to a 2.0 world and there’s this tension,” he said.

Hausmann said the idea seemed to be best expressed by a plenary panel, which included heads of state, international organizations, and business leaders, that discussed the U.N. Millennium Development Goals.

“This is really the extreme 1.0 idea,” he said. “Here you’re going to have a group of leaders deciding where are the goals for everybody, and especially for the eradication of poverty, without really considering what are the problems for the poor of this world would like to nominate.”

Beside its reputation for a meeting place for the world’s elite, Davos has also long been known for its social scene, but participants said they found it a more subdued meeting this year.

“It was a more optimistic Davos; it was a less glamorous Davos,” said Nancy Koehn MPP 1983, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. ”It was all just less sparkly. It was a little less celebrity-studded and glamorous.”

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panel members

Panelists pictured (From L to R): Eric Hellweg, Harvard Business Review; Ricardo Hausmann, HKS Professor of the Practice of Economic Development; Josh Lerner, HBS Jacob H. Schiff Professor of Investment Banking; Nancy Koehn, HBS James E. Robison chair of Business Administration; Felipe Calderon, HKS Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow; and John Haigh, HKS executive dean.

“The mood of the meeting was absolutely different from last year,” said Calderon.

Felipe Calderon, the former president of Mexico and inaugural Angelopoulos Global Public Leaders Fellow at the Kennedy School