Everyone and I really mean everyone with rank and name knows the small Swiss town of Davos. The who’s who of world politics have been meeting here since 1974. The World Economic Forum (WEF) is the scene of numerous global players, economic experts, scientists, social actors and journalists. From Nelson Mandela, Helmut Kohl, Bill Gates, Yasser Arafat, Wladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump, they all came and come to Davos when Klaus Schwab calls.
Everyone knows the WEF, but who is this Klaus Schwab?
Prof. Dr. Dr. Klaus Schwab, born in Ravensburg, Germany, in 1938, is the founder and executive chairman of the world-renowned World Economic Forum. In 1971, the then professor of corporate policy invited 444 executives from western European companies to Davos for the first European Management Symposium. In 1974 the first politicians took part in the symposium. In 1987 the name was changed to the World Economic Forum known today and is intended to provide a platform where solutions to international conflicts can be found through dialogues.
This option has already been used successfully by some leading politicians. In 1988, for example, Greece and Turkey signed the Davos Declaration. This prevented war between these two countries at almost the last minute. In 1990, just two and a half months after the historic fall of the Berlin Wall, Helmut Kohl and Hans Modrow had a groundbreaking discussion in the Swiss ski village about the reunification of Germany. At the 24th Annual Meeting in 1994, Shimon Peres, former Israeli Foreign Minister, and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat signed a draft treaty on Gaza and Jericho.
The forum’s mission is to “make the world a better place”. This motto, which can be interpreted as a sovereign and the way the event is organized, is criticized by numerous organizations. It is rated as a vain, elitist and overly business-oriented event. Not to forget that the WEF is not just a political and economic event, but also an organization that has the status of a non-profit organization in Switzerland. However, this institution has become a real money machine over the years. There are events of the World Economic Forum worldwide, it has 800 employees and a budget of estimated 300 million euros ($ 333.639.000). The whole thing is financed by around 1,000 companies that act as sponsors. There are 120 strategic partners and the minimum annual contribution for them is around 600,000 CHF (557.489,84 €/ $ 620.067). The basic annual membership fee is 42,500 CHF (39.497 €/ $ 43.924) and a fee of 18,000 CHF (16.726 €/ $ 18.607) for the participation of your President in the annual meeting in Davos.
Mike Townsley, Head of Communication at Greenpeace, describes Davos as the “place where all the bad guys meet“. This review is, of course, in the eye of the beholder and surely there are controversial names on Klaus Schwab’s elite guest list. However, Klaus Schwab himself also said: “If you were a pastor of a church, you want sinners to come to your church on Sunday and you don’t want to lock them out.”
“If we didn’t have the need to talk, to dialogue, we would live in a global dictatorship where every man would have the same opinion. This means that you not only talk, but also let them talk is absolutely necessary for cohesion in our world. What is important is that not only to talk, but also to listen. […] This feeling that we need dialogue to understand each other”
When time is short…
The WEF is considered mysterious, closed and “symbol of capitalism“. No wonder, after all everything happens behind closed doors. For the first time, a film team was allowed to look behind the scenes of the legendary WEF and accompany Klaus Schwab in his work. In 2018 I went to Davos with the German filmmaker Marcus Vetter. He and his team were allowed to make a documentary about the World Economic Forum.
The project took a total of three years until “The Forum” celebrated its premiere in 2019. At the end of November 2019, I attended the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA). There, Marcus presented the film to an international audience together with Klaus Schwab and Jennifer Morgan, CEO of Greenpeace International.