29 January, 2021
Davos is an opportunity for the world’s elite to come together and shape the ‘global agenda’ around our most pressing political, social and environmental challenges. And it has hosted some important historical moments, from Nelson Mandela’s pivotal anti-apartheid speech in 1992, to Sharon Stone raising $1million in five minutes in 2005 for malaria. While the old joke of rich white men flying private planes into a luxury ski resort to discuss climate change, sexism and inequality is revealing, change does happen at Davos.
This year ‘Davos Week’ went online, like so much else. But it’s not had its usual fanfare and buzz of global coverage. And while the world’s attention is elsewhere, perhaps it’s also because it is hard to replicate the offline online and have the same impact whilst communicating from the comfort of your (in some cases very plush) living room.
Post-Covid, there will undoubtedly be significant and lasting changes in how we come together to tackle these challenges. It’s much easier – not to mention more climate friendly – to join a Zoom call than it is to get on a plane. And perhaps little and often, rather than big and splashy, is what is needed to keep momentum going. As the ever pithy Greta Thunberg said earlier this week “we understand that the world is very complex and that change doesn’t happen overnight. But you’ve now had more than three decades of blah blah blah. How many more do you need?”.
And yet, the impact of getting together in person can’t be overstated. The serendipitous encounters during the coffee breaks, or the late-night session setting the world to rights over a brandy after a long day of plenary sessions don’t happen virtually. And Rutger Bregman telling the world’s richest people to forget philanthropy and pay their taxes cut through in a way it just wouldn’t have done if he hadn’t been standing right in front of them at the time.
So there’s a balance to be struck. Fewer private jets, fewer bottles of Krug, fewer hangers on. But in a Zoom-weary world, those moments of human connection where we step off script and create that spark are going to remain important.
By Gemma Coate