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Davos 2019: Why Brexit and Bono were this year's hottest topics

8 min read

25 January 2019

Reporter, Real Business

The World Economic Forum landed in the Swiss town of Davos this week. But do we really know what the annual event is about? What's the history of Davos, and why do global CEOs attend? We cover the hot topics discussed this year including Brexit and new impact investment news...

January is a time for reflection and new starts, isn’t it? The World Economic Forum, (WEF), an event where diplomatic and entrepreneurial elites meet once a year, is no exception to this seasonal rule.

Taking place annually in the picturesque Swiss town of Davos, how impactful is this event for stimulating a greater global economy for us all?

Further to this, just how many of us actually know what the event is about? What’s in it for the people who attend?

Let’s explore the context of Davos, how much economic impact it really has on the global economy, and what’s going on there this year.

Read about the history of Davos or skip straight to what’s going on this year.

Davos: The Background

Whilst the global media is known to cover the yearly mega-event, do we humble laypeople know what it’s really about? Here’s the back story for those of you that don’t…

Davos started life in 1971 and was a small conference that was created with the intention to bring American style management tips to European businesses.

Since then, the scope of what Davos offers as an event has grown exponentially. The event now invites around 3,000 global elites to discuss topics including business, finance, politics and public affairs.

But is this event an impactful one? Or merely one big panel discussion full of rhetoric and little else?

Whilst the WEF’s global outlook is embodied in the organisation’s mission as “improving the state of the world”, –  is this really a little too ambitious?

Who attends?

The popular guests of this annual event include a mish-mash of the usual heads of state, including representatives from France, Germany and the UK.

What’s interesting here is that the United States usually declines to attend as they don’t agree with the forum’s globalist message.

But it’s not just politicians who go…

Many global industry leaders attend to give their two-cents on how to stimulate a great global economy, (Carlos Ghosn of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi is a regular attendee), these are the ones who bankroll Davos by attending and paying membership fees. International bodies also attend the event each year, including The World Bank and the IMF, as well as charities and NGOs.

Why do CEOs go?

Whilst the main topics discussed at Davos include global themes such as poverty, gender inequality and ‘the environment’, let’s be real, global entrepreneurs aren’t going there to participate in these conversations.

Davos presents these big industry figures with the ultimate networking experience.

It’s also great PR for these people, as it’s such a widely published event, it’s the perfect stage for entrepreneurs to pitch their preferred commercial message out to the public. It’s also an opportunity to make pitches for inward investment to the cream of the world’s private sector business players, all in one place…

What does the event actually achieve?

But does this reoccurring event actually have any positive impact on the economic health of our increasingly connected world?

Furthermore, are the panel-based discussions of global economic strategies too broad and ineffectual? Are simply talking about these issues ever enough?

According to one globally recognised economic scholar Branko Milanovic, the WEF doesn’t do much to help the economic lives of people on the ground. Speaking on the event in 2018, here’s what he had to say:

“It is cheaper to place a sticker about fair trade than to give up the use of zero-hour contracts,” says Milanovic on the gap between rhetoric and economic implementations at Davos.

“They are loath to pay a living wage, but they will fund a philharmonic orchestra. They will ban unions, but they will organise a workshop on transparency in government.”

Davos in 2019: What’s being discussed this year?

Davos 2019 was always going to be an interesting one, with Brexit being at the top of the list to discuss as well as Theresa May’s absence from the event…

Brexit: “Come to us first”, says EU to Theresa May

What’s a standout issue this year is that British Prime Minister Theresa May cancelled her trip to the snow-peaked town.

Unable to steer the Brexit ship forward domestically, she’s remained at home to try and see it through to a conclusion.

EU officials, however, are in Davos in full force and are asking the absent PM about what direction she is going to take. This seems to suggest that the diplomatic ball is in her court…

Speaking at the event, the European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Pierre Moscovici, says it’s up to the May government to approach the EU with a Brexit solution, remarking “come to us with options and then we can discuss.”

Impact investment: U2 frontman gives advice

U2, one of the most commercially successful rock bands in recent industry, has always been vocal about the third sector and the importance of funding important charitable missions.

This year, lead singer Bono has announced that he’s teaming up with American private equity firm TPG to create a new organisation that will “help investors effectively understand the impact of their decisions.”

The new firm, Y Analytics, wants to clarify the extent to which an investment has created a social impact, as well as tracking key financial returns.

Speaking about global business more broadly, the Davos attendee remarked upon the waning power of legacy brands and how young entrepreneurs are more attracted to fresh ideas when it comes to investment…

Speaking at the event this year, Bono said that young people are changing business through their more disruptive investment decisions…

“They’re driving changes in business. They really are. They’re not loyal to brands, they’re loyal to ideas,” he said. “Businesses, even great businesses, like species, they can be extinct, if they don’t adapt and evolve. There’s a new mood in the room, and I think we need to be sensitive to what that is.”