The world’s elite and powerful are set to attend the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual meeting this week, in the Swiss town of Davos. 

Attendees include world leaders such as UK prime minister Theresa May, US president Donald Trump, French president Emmanuel Macron and India’s prime minister Narendra Modi, as well as top CEOs from around the world.

What is the WEF meeting?  

The WEF meeting was conceived by founder Klaus Schwab in 1971, and began as a small conference on management. The premise of the conference was for Schwab to introduce American management techniques to underperforming European businesses. 

However, since then, the Davos gathering has expanded into an annual congregation of around 3,000 of the world’s elite and powerful from the business world, finance, politics and public affairs, who listen to speeches, panel discussions and take part in seminars. 

Who attends the WEF?

Politicians, such as Theresa May and French president Emmanuel Macron descend to Davos to attend the WEF. The WEF however, doesn’t usually host American presidents, but this time, president Donald Trump has decided to make an appearance, which has surprised more than a few. Some experts predict that Trump will assert his “America First” theme, and possibly make the other delegates uncomfortable, with a view to sooth the egos of his political base at home. It was touch and go as to whether Trump would actually make the trip due to the government shutdown, however that issue has now since been resolved. 

Donald Trump is expected to make a speech on Friday and will be accompanied by secretary of state, Rex Tillerson. It was also scheduled that first lady, Melania Trump would be accompanying the American president in Davos, however, East Wing communications director, Stephanie Grisham, confirmed to CNN that the first lady’s decision to not join her husband was due to “scheduling and logistical issues.” It was, however, only a week ago that Grisham confirmed that Melania Trump would, in fact, be accompanying Donald Trump in Davos. 

It isn’t only politicians who attend the WEF. CEOs of the world’s largest companies are also in attendance; however, they must pay an annual membership fee for the privilege.

Other attendees of the week-long meeting include heads of bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), representatives from the UN, as well as heads on national central banks, such as Mark Carney, boss of the Bank of England (BoE).  

What happens at the WEF? 

The meeting is an opportunity for world powers to come together to discuss a plethora of themes, such as poverty, inequality, innovation, technological change and the environment. This year’s theme of the meeting is: “Creating a shared future in a fractured world.” 

The theme of the meeting is only the façade of what actually happens at the meeting. The most powerful CEOs in business look at the WEF as a golden business networking opportunity. Networking, rubbing shoulders and soothing egos take center stage at the meeting, with a lot of smaller gatherings taking place in private meeting rooms in the main Davos conference centre, plus in parties and hotel rooms once the main meeting has concluded. 

Networking isn’t only exclusive to top CEOs. Politicians also take advantage of the WEF to make investment pitches to the high concentration of global private sector CEOs. Not only that, but politicians also use the WEF as a platform to put across their message to the world’s media, which annually congregates at Davos in high numbers. 

Negotiations and deals have also been known to be agreed on between countries at the WEF, most notably when Greece and Turkey signed a “Davos Declaration” in 1998, which helped the two countries avoid war.  

Does the WEF accomplish anything? 

Supporters of the WEF admit that while the meeting doesn’t actually contribute to make an improvement to the world first hand, it gives people of influence the opportunity to come together to muster solutions to the world’s social, economic and political problems. However, not all see the WEF favorably. Some critics have said that the Davos meeting is host to many conversations that have no foundation and produces hypocritical virtue from the world’s most fortunate and privileged individuals. 

Optimism among Davos CEOs with a side of caution

A PwC survey of nearly 1,300 CEOs conducted between August and November 2017, found that 57% expect global growth to improve in 2018, almost twice the level of last year and the biggest increase since the survey’s conception in 2012. 

Despite Donald Trump’s turbulent year as president, optimism was surprisingly strong in the US, after the county had experienced a year of robust growth, deregulation and tax cuts under the Trump administration. 59% of US CEOs expressed confidence in the economy, compared to 24% the year previous, and 52% said that they expect this growing confidence to translate into revenue growth for their businesses in 2018, up from 39% from the previous year. 

However, it isn’t all sweetness and light for the CEOs that were surveyed. Some have some serious concerns over a range of commonly percieved threats. At least 40% of CEOs said that they were “extremely concerned” about geopolitical uncertainty, threats of cyber-attacks and terrorism, while 31% were apprehensive about climate, after a year of devastating storms. 

Another survey, the Global Risks Report, conducted by the WEF last week highlighted increasing concerns about the prospect of war, after a year in which president Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea and pull the US out of a deal between western powers and Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear programme.