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Posted at 8:52 AM ET, 01/26/2011

Not a meeting of despair

By Raju Narisetti

It is virtually impossible to escape the hyperbole at Davos and the World Economic Forum 2011 is sticking to the familiar as it formally gets underway Wednesday. The overarching theme this year is “Shared Norms for the New Reality.”

Registered participants were greeted with a welcome message from Klaus Schwab, the force behind the Forum, which went something like this:

“Global dialogue in our multifaceted world is needed more than ever before, and we have undertaken every effort to make this Davos active, inspiring and constructive. We also want this meeting to produce some legacies, further catalyzing initiatives under the framework of our different partnerships, as well as our global Risk Response Network…”

Panels with elevated titles such as “What is the New Economic Reality?,” “The Future of Unemployment” and “Preparing for New Realities” dominate the opening day.

Not surprising given the Forum is underway hours after President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech focusing on spending cuts and a fragile U.S. economy; in the shadow of continuing questions about the euro’s future; unrest in Egypt on the heels of a coup of sorts in Tunisia; ongoing concerns over the future of governance in Afghanistan and Iraq; and continuing questions over global banking and financial regulations.

But, much like accounting, the Forum’s mood can be relative, always year-over-year, so despite lingering questions over where the global economy is headed, there are glimmers of hope, especially among delegates of India, China and Africa, and the overall mood is decidedly one of some light at the end of the downturn tunnel.

And a surprisingly combative Schwab came out swinging in remarks to a group of Young Global Leaders on Tuesday evening as the rest of Forum delegates started coming into town. “There will be a lot of gloom,” he said. “We have to make sure this is not a meeting of despair but a meeting of inspiration.”

Urging the group to “counter-balance all those people who only see problems,” Schwab argued that the essence of Davos will always be “dialogue,” noting how relationships formed at Davos often come in good use for solving issues of all hues, especially those between countries, citing a personal example from Greece and Turkey back in the late 1980s.

There are those who say “nothing is coming out of Davos,” he noted, insisting that “a lot is coming out of Davos.”

Indeed. Some of it will be hot air and a lot of documents, so much so that DHL lets any Forum participant ship home a package for free — up to two kilos!

But Schwab knows what he is talking about. In 41 years, despite a lot of “whither Davos,” questions each year, hundreds of politicians, ministers, heads of state, CEOs, academicians, entrepreneurs and journalists would rather be here at the end of January than pretty much anywhere else. And almost everyone will tell you, it really is all about relationships, many formed over lots of just hanging out at the Forum, that come in handy for years to come.

By Raju Narisetti  | January 26, 2011; 8:52 AM ET
Categories:  Raju Narisetti  
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Next: Davos, Day 1: Listening to new voices for a new reality

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